Today marks the fortieth anniversary of one of the Nixon era’s most tragic events, when four students were killed by Ohio National Guard gunfire at the campus of Kent State University during an antiwar demonstration. The shootings were followed by a nationwide student strike, and thousands of students descending on Washington to protest. (It was at that time that President Nixon made his famous early-morning visit to the Lincoln Memorial, which I’ll write about in a few days.)
The deaths of the students were preceded by the burning of a building used by Kent State’s ROTC chapter. One member of the chapter was William Schroeder, one of the students who died. Another was David Rust, who at the time was planning a military career and took a job maintaining the chapter’s rifles. The events of May 4 changed his mind and made him decide to go into journalism. He’s been a cameraman with CNN for nearly thirty years, and at the channel’s website he writes about the events of that day:
As I watched the four days unfold, I was struck by the images I saw in person and the stories on the national news.
I heard news reports of “thousands” of student protesters, but I had only seen a few hundred in the protests before May 4. Many were like me, just watching what was going on.
It amazed me that the events unfolding at this small university could affect people’s opinion of their country and their government.
I was also impressed by the dramatic photos that captured the events, including one shot by John Filo, a Kent photojournalism student.
It showed a 14-year-old girl kneeling beside the body of Jeffrey Miller, one of the dead students. The photo earned a Pulitzer Prize for Filo. It also had a huge impact on the American public.
The power of the media coverage of the Kent State protests opened a whole new world for me.
For the first time I began to think about journalism. Six week later, when school reopened, I began to take my education more seriously. My grades dramatically improved, and I started focusing on a profession. I returned home to California and started taking writing and photography classes at Pasadena City College. The more I learned, the more obsessed I became with the news business.
With the help of friends working for televisions stations in Los Angeles, I learned to operate a television news camera.
Two years later, I heard about Ted Turner’s new experiment in 24-hour news, and I started working for CNN’s bureau in Los Angeles.
It all started with an unexpected lesson learned from a tragedy 40 years ago.
And at Time.com there’s an article about “Ohio,” Crosby Stills Nash & Young’s song, recorded later in May 1970.