Less than a month after Alan Canfora’s childhood friend was killed in the Vietnam War, he waved a black flag at Kent State University on May 4, 1970, to protest the expansion of U.S. troops into Cambodia.
Canfora ended up shot through the wrist by Ohio National Guardsmen who opened fire on protesters, killing four and injuring nine.
Nearly 50 years later, Canfora continues to spread the lessons of May 4 and works to uncover the truth about the shootings in which guardsmen fired into a crowd of student protesters.
On Thursday, Canfora offered a first-hand account of May 4 and the days that preceded it. He led educators on a campus tour from the Victory Bell where a protest began on May 1, up the hill to where armed guardsmen aimed M-1 rifles at a crowd of students and to the tree where he and a friend were shot. The tour ended by the markers signifying where Jeffrey Miller, Allison Krause, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder were slain in a parking lot.
Ringing the Victory Bell three times, Canfora explained that protests started on May 1, 1970, with the ringing of the bell, which attracted a crowd of 200 to 300 students. Graduate students dug a hole and buried a copy of the U.S. Constitution as a symbol of President Richard Nixon “murdering” the Constitution by authorizing the invasion of Cambodia without the approval of Congress.
On May 4, students gathered again for a peaceful rally, Canfora said.
"One student got up and said, ‘Is it the feeling of the students on this campus that we should join the national student strike against the invasion of Cambodia?’ ” Canfora recalled. “As soon as he said that, here comes a barrage of tear gas.”
Students fled, and guardsmen chased them up Blanket Hill and down to the practice football field, part of which is now covered by the gym annex, Canfora said.
The guard then retreated up the hill toward the pagoda, where Canfora believes there was a verbal command to fire.
Canfora was shot while trying to hide behind a tree. His jean jacket, with the bullet hole that pierced him, is now on display at the Ohio History Center. His friend Thomas Grace was 10 feet away when he was shot in the foot. Just behind them, another friend, Jeffrey Miller, was fatally shot through the head.
"It was a harrowing experience and it was literally nightmarish," he said. "I had to pause for a moment and realize, ‘My god this is really happening.’ ”
Krista S. Kano can be reached at 330-541-9416, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @KristaKanoRCedu.