All About Guns Paint me surprised by this

The Kent State Shootings: Glimpsing the Heart of Darkness by WILL DABBS

By 1970 the war in Vietnam was tearing America to pieces. 

May 4, 1970, was a Monday. The Vietnam War was ripping Southeast Asia apart, while an altogether different war raged across and throughout the American heartland. On the campus of Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, forces representing the Establishment were arrayed against a motley mob of some 2,000 students, hippies, stoners, bikers, and sundry anti-war protestors.

Fertile Ground for Chaos
Student-led protests against the Vietnam War arose on college campuses across the country.

Richard Nixon was two years into a term brought about by his promises to end American involvement in Vietnam. The My Lai Massacre in November of 1969 put an exceptionally ugly face on the conflict, while the pressure of a national draft kept the war personal for American young people. By 1970, student protests at colleges across the country were becoming overtly violent.

Jerry Rubin led the Yippie movement. I listened to a couple of his period interviews. This guy was a massive turd.

On April 10, Jerry Rubin, the leader of the Youth International Party, announced, “The first part of the Yippie program is to kill your parents. They are the first oppressors.”

Richard Nixon announced the invasion of Cambodia without consulting many of his closest advisors. This event precipitated a massive increase in war protests.

On April 30, President Nixon announced the invasion of Cambodia, a move widely seen as an unwelcome expansion of the conflict in Vietnam. By the first of May, demonstrations were being held both formally and otherwise across the country.

The Kent State protests were never particularly peaceful. This is what was left of the campus ROTC building after the protesters set it ablaze.

On Friday, May 1 in Kent, Ohio, protesters began vandalizing the downtown area by breaking windows and pelting police cars with beer bottles. Kent Mayor LeRoy Satrom declared a state of emergency and reached out to Ohio Governor Jim Rhodes for support. Governor Rhodes authorized the deployment of two Infantry companies and an Armored Cavalry troop. On the evening of Saturday, May 2, protesters burned the Kent State ROTC building to the ground.

The intensity of the protests as well as threats of further violence against local businesses prompted the mayor of Kent to request military support from the Governor of Ohio.

For much of that weekend, chaos reigned across the Kent State campus. Law Enforcement, firefighters, National Guardsmen, and anyone else viewed as being an authority figure were pelted with rocks and bottles. The Guardsmen responded with tear gas. Protesters were commanded to disperse at the point of the bayonet. Though there were a few minor injuries most of the damage was thus far confined to property.

Unleashing Hell

Tear gas rounds launched from M79 grenade launchers proved relatively ineffective in the windy conditions on campus.

By noon there were violent running encounters between the roughly 2,000 protesters and some 77 National Guard troops armed predominantly with M1 rifles. Windy conditions minimized the effectiveness of tear gas, and protesting students lobbed volleys of rocks at the Guardsmen. The crowds of protesters dispersed and then coalesced fairly randomly in response to the movements of the National Guard troops. Some protesters departed the area, but a great many pursued the main body of troops verbally taunting them and throwing stones.

SGT Myron Pryor can be seen at the far left of this photo firing his M1911A1 pistol left-handed.

The soldiers moved back toward the campus Commons area. The main body of protesters followed them shouting and throwing rocks. Some of the Guardsmen then stopped, knelt, and trained their rifles on the rowdy mob. Sergeant Myron Pryor then purportedly drew his M1911A1 .45ACP pistol and fired at the crowd. There followed a ragged volley of rifle fire lasting 13 seconds.

The Forensics of the Tragedy

This is the perspective looking down the hill from the location where the National Guardsmen opened fire.

When SGT Pryor first fired his weapon the nearest student to the National Guard formation was 71 feet away. 29 of the 77 Ohio National Guard soldiers later reported having discharged their weapons. Over the course of thirteen seconds, they fired a total of 67 rounds.

Terrified students ran for their lives once the shooting started. William Schroeder was killed at the far end of this row of cars.

Four students were killed and another nine injured. Two of the students, Jeffrey Miller and Allison Krause, were participants in the protest. The other two, William Schroeder and Sandra Scheuer, were walking between classes and not actively involved. Schroeder was actually a member of the Kent State ROTC unit.

John Cleary was shot through the chest but survived.

Scheuer was shot through the neck at 120 meters. Schroeder was shot in the chest from a range of 116 meters. Krause was hit in the chest from 105 meters, and Miller was shot in the head at 81 meters.

The round that went through John Cleary’s chest ultimately penetrated a steel sculpture on campus. The hole remains there to this day.

Of the nine protesters who were injured, all were male. Distances ranged from 22 to 230 meters. Dean Kahler was left permanently paralyzed with a spinal cord injury. James Russell was struck in the forehead with birdshot.

This photo was taken immediately after the Guardsmen stopped firing.

There were allegations that the exchange was precipitated by gunfire against the Guardsmen. The Ohio National Guard commander, General Robert Canterbury, had personally given the order to lock and load rifles prior to the push to disperse the crowds.

The Weapons

The M1911 pistol became an American military icon.

SGT Pryor’s M1911A1 was an evolutionary development of John Moses Browning’s extraordinary M1911. Developed around the beginning of the 20th century, the M1911 was a radically advanced sidearm for its day.

The 1917-vintage Colt M1911 shown here on the right differed in a few esoteric features from the Remington Rand M1911A1 on the left produced in 1944.

The M1911 saw active service with American forces during WW1. In 1924 the basic design was slightly tweaked into the definitive model that carried US forces through WW2, Korea, and Vietnam. These changes included a longer grip safety spur, simplified grips, a shorter trigger, frame cutouts behind the trigger, an arched mainspring housing, and a handful of lesser adjustments. The resulting pistol was and is reliable, relatively accurate, and undeniably powerful.

The M1 rifle helped win the war for the Allies during WW2.

The M1 rifle entered service in 1936 and soldiered on as the standard Infantry rifle for the US Army until it was supplanted by the M14 in 1958. A semiautomatic gas-operated design, the M1 was an integral part of the Allied victory during WW2. The weapon obviously remained in service with Army Reserve and National Guard units until the 1970s.

When equipped with a bayonet the M1 rendered superlative service as a proper pike. Thanks to for the M1 bayonet.

Though bulky and heavy by modern standards, the M1 was a generation more advanced when compared to the bolt-action weapons used by every other major combatant during the Second World War. Given the weapon’s length and rugged construction, it also made for a proper close-quarter tool when equipped with a bayonet. The M1 is rightfully revered by military history enthusiasts as well as those who carried the weapon operationally.

The Winchester M1897 Trench Gun soldiered on well into the modern era.

At least one of the Guardsmen involved in the Kent State shooting was carrying a pump-action 12-gauge shotgun. I’ve pored over the period pictures and cannot definitively pick out a shotgun. However, the US Army has used a wide variety of scatterguns operationally over the years. The Remington 870 was in common use at the time. The Winchester 1897 Trench Gun saw service all the way from WW1 up to the 1991 Gulf War.

The M79 grenade launcher is a versatile and effective weapon. It has been called the “Platoon Leader’s Artillery” for its capacity to provide responsive close range indirect fires.

The Ohio National Guardsmen used M79 grenade launchers to throw tear gas canisters. In use from 1961 to the present, the M79 has been variously known as the “Thumper,” the “Bloop Tube,” the “Elephant Gun,” and “Big Ed” by the American troops who wielded it. Australians referred to this beloved weapon as the “Wombat Gun.”

The M79 is exceptionally accurate in experienced hands.

The M79 utilizes the High-Low Propulsion System that minimizes recoil from its 40x46mm grenades. The Mk19 automatic grenade launcher fires 40x53mm grenades that are not interchangeable with those for the M79.

The HK M320 is gradually replacing both the M79 and M203 grenade launchers in US service. I realize this in an effective weapon, but that thing is just bug ugly.

The M79 was largely replaced by the under-barrel M203 which has itself been largely supplanted in US service by the HK M320.


A Kent State photojournalism student named John Filo won the Pulitzer Prize for this remarkably poignant photograph. I bet that Pulitzer really set him apart from his undergrad classmates.

More than anything else a single photograph was taken by John Filo defined the horror of the Kent State shootings. Filo was a photojournalism student at the time and snapped the picture spontaneously. He won the Pulitzer Prize for the image.

Mary Ann Vechio, shown here on the left alongside photographer John Filo some 39 years after the Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph was taken, went on to become a respiratory therapist.

The young lady in the photo is a 14-year-old runaway named Mary Ann Vechio. Vechio was an Italian immigrant who left her home and Westview Junior High School in Opa-Locka, Florida, to illicitly visit the Kent State campus. In the aftermath of the shooting and the photo, Vechio traded her story to a local reporter for a bus ticket to California. Police apprehended her before she could get on the bus and returned the girl to her family. She later sued T-shirt companies for 40% of the profits from shirts featuring her likeness.

The details are still unclear as to exactly what precipitated the horrible events that day on the Kent State campus.

As is the case with all such chaotic public events, controversy swirls to this day over the details. Terry Norman was a junior at Kent State at the time of the shootings and was surveilling students and demonstrators at the behest of the campus police and the FBI. He was equipped with a gas mask and was carrying a concealed .38 revolver at the time. Though the details are certainly murky, it has been alleged that Norman discharged his handgun as many as four times some 70 seconds prior to the Guardsmen opening fire with their rifles.

The real story concerning the Kent State massacre will likely never be definitively known.

Eyewitness accounts have been conflicting as has been forensic analysis of the scant audio tapes available from the event. However, had Norman actually discharged his weapon in self-defense as has been alleged it would lend credence to the National Guard version of events that they fired in response to gunfire they perceived to be directed at them. The moment was certainly violent and chaotic enough to have been confusing.

Throwing rocks at soldiers with guns is never without risk.

The Kent State shootings ultimately helped catalyze the US withdrawal from Vietnam as well as the downfall of President Richard Nixon. This event also transformed crowd control tactics, tools, and techniques around the world. However, as I researched this sordid event I was inexorably drawn back to a single timeless truth. No matter the righteousness of your cause, whether you are on a college campus, an energized public square, or the Gaza strip, it is seldom wise to throw rocks at guys with guns.

The Kent State shootings resulted in massive student protests across the country that ultimately helped end US involvement in Vietnam.
Chrissie Hynde, the future lead singer for The Pretenders, was a student at Kent State and an eyewitness to events that day.
Gerald Casale, the future bass player for the band Devo, witnessed the shootings and shared a friendship with two of the dead students. He attributes the Kent State shooting as the catalyst for his idea of devolution that spawned his band. Casale was a pioneer of the concept of the music video.

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