Memories from May 4

For every student on campus, the events of May 4 were a different experience. Thirty-seven years later, a few decided to share their memories.

Five people. Five angles. Five memories. One day: May 4, 1970.

Laura Davis

Associate Provost Laura Davis remembers May 4, 1970 as a day of earnest demonstration, both against the war and the presence of the National Guard.

“Obviously, everyone knew the National Guard was on campus,” she said, “and many people thought it was important to join a demonstration that had been announced on Friday.”

Davis said she was a freshman English education major at the time and was part of the demonstration. She also witnessed attempts at burning down the ROTC building the Saturday before the shootings occurred.

The attempts she saw failed, so she said it was a complete surprise when she saw the building had actually been burned down.

“I didn’t think people should have been setting that on fire, but at least there was meaning behind it, although I didn’t approve of it,” she said.

At the time of the shootings, she was standing at the bottom of Blanket Hill, behind Lake and Olson halls. While she did not see anyone get shot, she said the synchronization of the guards’ movements struck her.

“Because I was standing at the bottom of the hill, I could not see who was getting shot,” she said. “But I did have an absolutely clear view of the guard reaching the top of the hill and heading back toward the commons, turning in unison and lowering down and lifting their guns in unison.”

To this day, the events she witnessed still affect her.

“During (the week of May 4) . it’s like this gate opens up, and I just enter into this other world,” she said. “Obviously, I remember the day and what happened that weekend. I think about the people who were killed. I think about the spirit, and the connection of people trying to change the world being gone.”

For her, the events of May 4 are something the Kent State community should always remember.

“I think, first, everyone should honor the memory of the four students who died here. They were quite young, and they were real people,” she said. “I think it’s also important for students to ask questions. If the pieces don’t fit together, they should figure out why that is.”

Pam Godshalk

For some students, the news of the May 4 shootings did not come until well into the evening hours that day. That was the case for Pam Godshalk, a junior at the time, and now a high school history teacher in Akron.

A commuter from Stow, she had heard about the weekend’s events and former university President Robert White’s request for military presence only from the news.

When she entered her first class of the day in Satterfield Hall, she said she saw two signs on the doors directly contradicting each other.

One sign, she said, explained the military presence and contained a set of rules – one of these prohibited gatherings and demonstrations of any kind. The other sign encouraged students to attend that day’s demonstration, against both the invasion of Cambodia and the military presence on campus.

Not wanting to miss a class she had at the same time of the demonstration, Godshalk chose not to take part in it. At the time of the shootings, she was near the Memorial Gym. She said she heard gunfire, but the sound was not something brand new, as tear gas had been used at many of the previous demonstrations. What she found unusual, though, were the sirens.

“Within five minutes (of the gunfire), you just started hearing sirens,” she said. “That’s what I remember the most.”

After that, she said people began to literally run across the campus.

“People were saying, ‘They’re attacking,’ and ‘Run for your lives,'” she said.

Still, Godshalk said she had no idea people had been shot. She did not find out until arriving home later that evening.

However, being present that day still affected her.

“There’s a sadness,” she said. “But in a way, it was a catalyst for a lot of good things too, namely crowd control.”

Robby Stamps

Robby Stamps was peacefully protesting 200 yards away from the National Guard when shots suddenly rang out on May 4.

Stamps, a sophomore at the time, said he “knew right away” he had been hit when a bullet pierced his buttocks, just missing his spinal cord and femur bone.

“I thought to myself, ‘If I get hit again, it’s all over, so I better get down on the ground,'” he said.

As other students went to get help, Stamps said he “found a bunch of students huddled on the ground and literally jumped on top of them,” thinking as the student on top, his life was expendable because he was already wounded.

Stamps said luckily, despite his month-long stay in the hospital, he had no long-term effects as a result of the bullet wound.

In the fall of 1970, Stamps, along with the eight other wounded students, returned to Kent State.

Initially, however, Stamps said his parents told him, “There’s no way you’re going back there.”

But, after his parents witnessed the outpouring of support from the Kent State community, he said they agreed to allow him to return to the university because of its “wonderful support system.”

And for Stamps, the decision was a good one. He described his next year at Kent State as “wonderful.”

“The war was still going on, and I frequently left campus to go to other universities to give speeches,” he said, adding money made from his speeches went to the Kent Student Medical Fund Incorporated to help pay for the medical costs of the uninsured injured students on May 4.

For the past two years, Stamps, now a resident of Tallahassee, Fla., said he has been suffering from Lyme Disease and is currently bedridden.

Otherwise, he said he would be still be actively protesting – except this time against the Iraq War and the idea of the military-industrial complex, meaning the theory of a close relationship between the military and corporations who profit from the needs of war.

“If I were well, I’d be on every campus I possibly could talking about Vietnam and Iraq and drawing parallels between the two,” he said.

Lately, Stamps said he feels disappointed by both the Kent State community and student body.

For a university whose name is symbolic of the student-led anti-war movement in the Vietnam-era, Stamps said he thinks it is essential current Kent State students lead the path of opposition to the United States’ current involvement in Iraq.

“I think the nation is looking to Kent State students for guidance and initiative,” he said. “Kent State should have been leading the protests years ago.”

On a more personal note, Stamps said he is “hurt by the lack of response and sympathy” he received from the Kent State community despite being ill for the past two years.

“It’s essential to commemorate the dead, but there’s someone who is living that needs support and is not getting it,” he said.

And by support, Stamps said he means the kind born out of friendship.

“I don’t mean financial support,” he said. “I mean cards and phone calls.”

Saul Daniels

Saul Daniels was not on the front lines of the May 4 shootings. He was not a student protester, nor was he a student walking by the Taylor Hall on the way to class.

Daniels, a senior at Kent State who had just ended his reign as editor of the Daily Kent Stater, was on front campus at the news bureau, the public relations office turned information center for the media as the situation intensified in Kent, when someone came running in saying, “There’s a shooting.”

But several hours later, as Daniels attempted to make his way back to Leebrick Hall to retrieve his belongings after the campus closed, the National Guard near Taylor Hall cut his journey short.

“I ran into some guardsman and they pointed their rifles at me and asked, “Where are you going?”

Despite showing them a piece of paper from officials on front campus granting him permission to walk back to Leebrick Hall, Daniels said the guardsmen “made me sit on the steps and pointed their rifles at me.”

At the time, Daniels said he found irony in the situation – in addition to fear.

“On one hand, I was scared, but on the other hand, I thought ‘How stupid is this?'” he said. “‘There’s a kid younger than me pointing a rifle at me on my college campus.'”

Eventually, Daniels said the guardsmen allowed him to walk back to front campus where a member of the military personally escorted him in a military vehicle to Leebrick Hall – only to discover that the entrances to it were chained shut.

“At that point, I was prepared to sleep on the floor of the news bureau,” he said.

Instead, Daniels said he joined other reporters for the night at a former Holiday Inn on the edge of Kent before driving back home to Long Island, N.Y., the next day.

Now, 37 years later and a resident of Los Angeles, Daniels said his memories of May 4 at Kent State continue to enter his mind.

“For a long time, it was in my thoughts every single day for years,” he said. “It’s not that much in my forefront nowadays, except in May.”

Jerry M. Lewis

Jerry M. Lewis, emeritus professor of sociology at Kent State, remembers hearing shots fired on May 4, 1970 – and then silence.

“After the firing stopped, there was just this real silence,” he said. “It was scary.”

As a “faculty marshal” wearing a blue armband with orders from the university to be a “peacemaking presence” among the protesting students, Lewis said he was about 15 yards away from victim Sandy Scheuer when the guards opened fire.

Unlike most students who thought the guard members were firing blanks as a scare tactic, Lewis said he knew right away that bullets were accompanying the shots because “no smoke comes out when you fire blanks.”

In the wake of the shootings, Lewis said the university faculty and students acted heroically, holding classes in churches and homes in an effort to finish the quarter.

For his class of nine doctoral students, Lewis said he mailed letters to the students to formally end the course.

“I wrote them all and said ‘You all have A’s and send me your papers,'” he said. “I’m still waiting for six papers.”

Contact academic affairs reporter Christina Stavale at [email protected] and student politics reporter Jackie Valley at [email protected].