Peterson: Not a typical day 50 years ago

It was a typically nice spring day at the Neureut Kaserne fifty years ago.

The weather in that southern Germany hamlet was pretty much like it is in southern Michigan, warm with flowers just blooming.

But May 4, 1970 wasn’t just another day.

Since it was my birthday, I had the day off and planned to visit the Canadian commissary in Baden Baden.

But news from the states earlier in the day (there’s a six hour time difference) told of an event that shocked us all.

Four Kent State students had been gunned down by Natonal Guard troops during a protest on the campus that very day.

Since more than half of the troops in the 516th Signal Co. were draftees, and most cases, former college students, the news had an effect.

Just a year or two earlier, a lot of us had been enrolled in college. In my case, that was Northern Michigan University.

Some of us may have protested the Vietnam War policies, but none of us had resisted being drafted into the military.

Still, the word of the news was upsetting to many of us — especially after we learned that none of the students were even involved in the protest.

Three of them were simply heading to another class. The fourth — ironically an Army ROTC student — was going home for the day.

The injustice of the shooting bothered many of us, as did the apathy of some of our fellow soldiers. I can recall at least two older veterans joking that RA (regular Army) soldiers could have done a better job than killing just four.

As fate would have it, our company was playing the 2nd Maintenance Division in softball that very afternoon.

Now, the Second was comprised mainly of guys who had been in the service for a few years. There was a genuine dislike between the two companies and we were bitter enemies in the softball, football and basketball leagues on the post.

During the second inning, an off-color remark by one of the Second’s players about the Kent State shootings sparked an incident that eventually led to an all-out brawl between the two teams.

We finished out playing the game, but the after-game handshakes that usually followed were absent that day.

I couldn’t but think the differences then dividing our country over Vietnam and other things, were also present that day in a place 6,000 miles away.

And it’s why I always remember May 4, 1970 and Kent State as not just another day.


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