On May 4, 1970 I was on the air at WOCR, our campus radio station at SUNY Oswego. The little studio was on one side of a basement hallway in the student union. Our old UPI teletype machine was chugging away across the hall in our business office. I heard the five bells ringing from inside the studio denoting a bulletin was crossing. I ran over, ripped off the copy and read the unthinkable news on the air. Ohio National Guardsmen had shot and killed four unarmed students at Kent State University in Ohio during a large protest against the U.S. bombing of Cambodia.
My phone lit up and angry and crying students were on the other end of the line simply reacting to the news. They just needed to vent, first, to the person from whom they’d heard the news and would later take their outrage to the streets. We joined the ABC radio network for updates and gamely filled the rest of the time with a record here and there mixed in with listener reactions. This was all new to me. I was only completing my freshman year. I had no experience at all dealing with this type of story. I just did my best.
Fast forward 25 years to 1995 when my career took me to Detroit as the CNN Bureau Chief and correspondent there. We covered a large territory and Ohio was part of it. A quarter century after reading that bulletin on the campus radio station I would find myself at Kent State covering the 25th anniversary of the shootings. Most of my crew was too young to remember what happened. My cameraman, Chester Belecki was four years younger than me and remembered it well. We had to explain to our two younger team members why tears were in our eyes as we saw the monuments to the four young people cut down. Each monument was place exactly where they fell. A bullet hole remained in a metal sculpture in front of a classroom building.
Five years later we were back for the 30th anniversary. During our coverage of the 25th anniversary we got to know sociology professor Jerry Lewis, who played an important role on the day of the shootings. He created a course to inform students who came later about what happened on May 4, 1970, its context, consequences and aftermath. I caught up to Prof. Lewis and his class, and filed this report which you might find relevant even today…because we should never forget.