I've never been able to visit the Vietnam Memorial, even though I lived within walking distance from it for several years. I've thought about it many times, and one afternoon I set off alone walking toward the Lincoln Memorial, near which Ms. Lin's stirring monument lies carved into the soil of the Mall, its black granite V holding the names of some 58,000 of my peers who died in a cruel war which seemed to accomplish little more than to create anguish not seen in America since the Civil War.
As I neared the site tears came to my eyes. My thoughts moved to Kent State, where unarmed student demonstrators were gunned down, murdered in cold blood, by guardsmen during a Vietnam War protest on May 4th, 1970.
Four students were killed that day. They were Jeffrey Miller, Allison Krause, William Schroeder and Sandra Scheuer.
Jeff Miller was my neighbor when we were tikes.
Both of us grew up a few blocks from each other on Long Island in the 50's. I didn't know Miller well, but have often thought about him and once tried to find his mother after reading a retrospective she wrote about her son's death. I never did find her, but I wrote anyway -- of my horror the day I saw Jeff lying dead on the cover of Newsweek 27 years ago.
I realized that the reasons I could not stand at the Wall were complex. I felt the monument memorialized not only the stupidity and folly of war, but that somehow my attendance at the black granite edifice would be hypocritical. It wasn't that I didn't grieve for those sixty thousand souls. I did, and I do. It was because I had not done what I could to stop that war and to save those lives.
Even after Kent State, I participated in only one student protest. It was at California State University at Northridge. It was the day after Kent State. I remember my outrage and kicking a classroom door into the face of a physics professor who came into a hallway in which we were marching in an attempt to shut down the school. I didn't know the professor's name, but I recognized his face through the 8 x 10 inch glass window in the door. He looked furious that we should be disrupting his class and it was his sneering mouth contorted in anger that propelled my right foot toward the door. That one violent action seemed to release all the frustration in me that day, and I remember leaving the throng just afterwards and heading toward the library where I wept for the futility of it all.
Yet, pausing in front of the Watergate complex, I turned and headed back home the day I tried to visit The Wall. I couldn't go to because I knew I wouldn't find Jeff Miller's name carved into that Vermont granite.
January 1999, Three Decades Later:
Kent State Killings To Be Marked
KENT, Ohio (AP) -- January 1999 -- Kent State University's board of trustees on Monday authorized the installation of markers in the spots where each of four students were killed during a 1970 protest against the Vietnam War.
Four parking spaces in a lot on this northeast Ohio school's campus will be sealed off. The markers will be put in those spots, while the rest of the lot remains open, university spokesman Ron Kirksey said. The memorials will each include a 42-inch-high post with an electric light hanging from it. The light will always be turned on, Kirksey said.
"The installation of these four markers will complete the unfinished task of institutional acknowledgment of the site of the tragic events of May 4, 1970," the board of trustees' resolution said.
In addition to the four people killed, nine students were wounded by National Guard members who had been sent in to quell a campus protest against the war.
"We are deeply gratified that Kent State University has made such a meaningful gesture," said Alan Canfora, 49, a student who was shot in the wrist during the protest.
In May, a group of students asked the university to close the parking lot and brought letters to university President Carol Cartwright from each victim's family asking that part, or all, of the lot be shut off. Near the parking lot is a memorial that features a 70-foot bench with four pillars to represent the slain students.
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