National Guardsman meets with May 4 Task Force for first time

Kiera Manion-Fischer

Was the shooting justified? – That was the question on the May 4 Task Force members’ minds when they met with retired Lt. Gen. Charles Fassinger, one of the commanding officers of the Ohio National Guard in May 1970.

April 5 was the first time a member of the National Guard has met with the May 4 Task Force.

Fassinger answered the Task Force members’ questions for two hours at the meeting. Associate provost Laura Davis and Carole Barbato, associate professor of speech communication, arranged for Fassinger’s visit to Kent State. Davis and Barbato both teach a May 4 class and interviewed Fassinger to document the perspective of a key member of the National Guard.

Jim Mueller, Kent State alumnus and former co-chair of the May 4 Task Force, said people at the meeting kept coming back to the question of whether the National Guard was justified in shooting at the students.

Davis was a Kent State student during May 4, 1970, and witnessed the shootings. She said the Guard only has the right to fire in two possible situations: If its members were given an order to shoot, or if they felt their lives were in danger.

“From evidence that I observed and from what I have read since then and from photographs that I’ve viewed, the guards were not in imminent danger,” Davis said. “There was no immediate risk to the guards’ lives.”

On May 4, 1970, Fassinger was standing behind the troops who fired their weapons.

“I have no reason ever to doubt, (that) as a group, they felt what they said they felt,” Fassinger said. “They had a right to fire if they felt their lives were in danger.”

Fassinger said his purpose is not necessarily to defend the Guard, but simply to tell his story – what he saw, heard and did, as well as to explain the National Guard’s perspective in general.

Alan Canfora was one of the wounded students on May 4th. He was shot through his right wrist. Canfora was also one of the founding members of the May 4 Task Force.

He said he has discovered “absolute proof” that the guardsmen were ordered to fire. Canfora said he asked Fassinger at the meeting whether there was an order.

“I never heard an order, and I certainly never gave one,” Fassinger said.

Canfora said the discussion remained cordial throughout the meeting.

“I did shake his hand, after some consideration, in the interest of healing and finding the truth,” Canfora said. “It’s time to heal the wounds.”

Mueller said the group has always been open to hearing the point of view of the Guard.

“We always get flak for not having a balanced program. Whenever we would invite a guardsman or someone who has a different opinion, they would decline the invitation,” said Sarah Lund-Goldstein, senior history major and member of the May 4 Task Force.

“After so many years, we should have some honest dialogue,” Mueller said. “That’s a step in the right direction.”

Contact news correspondent Kiera Manion-Fischer at [email protected].