KENT: At 12:24 p.m. Friday, the Victory Bell on the Kent State University Commons pealed 15 times.
Once each for Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, William Schroeder, Sandra Scheuer, who died not far from the symbol whose purpose was to ring out in triumph.
Nine more times for students who were struck by bullets but survived a volley from National Guardsmen as they opened fire on a crowd during that now-famous anti-war demonstration on May 4, 1970.
Two more solemn metallic clangs in remembrance of two Jackson State University students killed by Mississippi police during their own Vietnam War protest 10 days later.
Hundreds attended Friday’s annual commemoration. On a warm day beneath billowy clouds, an afternoon not unlike the day of the KSU tragedy, they spread out across Blanket Hill, the slope where students ascended before charging guardsmen.
They milled about on the other side of the hill, where the dead students fell, and a bullet hole in a Don Drumm sculpture in front of Taylor Hall remains a 42-year-old reminder of that iconic moment in American history.
As has become tradition, a historical chronicle of events was read aloud, recalling the announcement of the U.S. invasion of Cambodia, the downtown riots that followed, the burning of the ROTC barracks, and the tension that built as armed National Guardsmen were called in to dispel demonstrations.
Then four people took turns speaking on behalf of the four slain students on a stage framed by poster-sized photographs of Krause, Miller, Schroeder and Scheuer.
“Don’t think of this place as anything less than where Americans shed blood for their freedom,” said Bryan Staul, president of the Kent State College Democrats.
Staul said his own generation has been “lazy” when it comes to the ages-old battle to preserve liberty and fight for justice.
“We don’t vote. We don’t stand up. We don’t protest … We gave up, we let go,” he said as he called on his peers to become more active in their world.
Representing Scheuer, classmate Peter Jedick recalled meeting Scheuer in the Tri-Towers dorm cafeteria, where she made jokes about the food. Afterward, they ate together often.
Jedick said he was in the KSU commons that day in 1970 when he heard “firecrackers” on the opposite side of Taylor Hall. It took awhile before he realized the noise was gunfire, and another day before he learned his friend had died in that moment.
Sanford Jay Rosen, who represented surviving victims and the families of the dead in a wrongful death civil suit, told the story of how the families had lost the first court round, won a new trial on appeal, and eventually made a heart-wrenching decision to settle for $600,000.
“I have only wept twice in public as an adult,” Rosen said, and the first was when he saw how difficult it was for the families to accept the settlement without any authorities accepting responsibility.
Rosen said he has often dreamed that he had the chance to try the case a third time “and win total victory.”
Rosen joined many other voices in continuing to ask state and federal lawmakers to convene hearings to examine new evidence from the shootings.
Last week, the Justice Department said it would not reopen the investigation, saying enhanced audio recordings that some insist include an official order for the guardsmen to open fire were inconclusive.