‘It’s important we never forget this’

Abbey Stirgwolt

Friends, community remember the four lives lost on May 4, 1970

Florida resident Carol Meyer cries to himself during the 12-hour silent protest held at the May 4th victims memorials. Meyer came to stand in solidarity with his sisters and brothers. ALLIEY BENDER | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

On her way home from school, Ellen Spriestersbach used to pass a military tank guarding the intersection of Graham Road and Route 91.

A senior at Stow High School in May 1970, Spriestersbach hasn’t forgotten the events of May 4.

She won’t let herself forget.

“It was horrible. So absolutely horrible,” she said. “You just can’t explain it.”

Spriestersbach attended Kent State in fall 1970 and graduated in 1975. She said she attends the May 4 memorial ceremony every year because she believes remembrance is vital.

“It’s important that we never forget this,” she said.

More than 300 others attended the May 4 commemoration ceremony.

After setting up blankets and lawn chairs, young and old alike gathered to hear dedications to the victims of the May 4 shootings.

“I am here because Sandy cannot be here,” said Carol Barbato, who addressed the crowd on behalf of Sandra Scheuer, who died on May 4.

Barbatos described her friend as kind-hearted and accepting.

“Hell, she probably would have forgiven the man who shot her in the neck,” Barbatos said.

Tom Callahan, whose sister was friends with Bill Schroeder, addressed Schroeder’s unknown May 4 shooter.

“Did you ever tell Bill (Schroeder)’s parents that you were sorry that you killed their son?” he asked.

Keynote speaker Mary Ann Vecchio was 14 at the time of the May 4 shootings. A visitor to Kent State to join war protests, Vecchio unintentionally became an international celebrity because of a photograph taken of her kneeling over the body of Jeffrey Miller.

“My picture was taken and sent all over the world,” she said.

After the events of May 4, Vecchio moved to San Francisco and married, but she couldn’t hide from the events of that day, she said.

“I hid inside myself for a long time,” she said. “I never forget about Kent State.”

Vecchio encouraged her audience to speak out against the current war with Iraq.

“The work never stops, and that’s why I’m here today,” she said. “This conflict has to be resolved quickly.”

Vecchio ended by encouraging students to carry on the legacy of May 4.

“We made a difference,” she said. “Keep our torch going — you won’t regret it.”

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of social activism group Code Pink, was the final speaker.

Benjamin addressed the similarities between Vietnam and Iraq, drawing the crowd’s attention to the mock cemetery behind her.

“The vast majority of people fighting this war come from rural America,” she said. “Why? Because we have destroyed rural America.”

Benjamin also spoke about rising college costs, which force students who can’t afford higher education to join the military, she said.

“Nobody should have to enter the military to get an education in this country,” she said.

As rain began to fall and the increasingly sparse audience headed for cover, Benjamin urged those who remained to take an active approach to bringing troops home from Iraq.

“George Bush calls himself the decision-maker,” she said. “I think we want to be the deciders in this country.”

Benjamin closed with a quote from an Iraqi patrolman whom she encountered during a trip to Iraq. The man told her he was learning Hebrew, and when she expressed surprise at this, he explained his reasoning to her:

“We should learn to communicate with those we are taught to see as enemies,” he said.

Contact technology reporter Abbey Stirgwolt at [email protected].