Mark Maedeker was a student at Kent State University during the shootings on May 4, 1970. He resided at Stopher Hall, which is in the quad near where the event took place. He was a member of the ROTC and Pershing Rifles Fraternity. Mark now works for the Defense Information Systems Agency. The following interview regarding his thoughts and perception of the event was conducted on November 30, 2006.
What were your feelings at the time of the Kent State shootings regarding the Vietnam War?
I was not against the invasion of Cambodia like many students. I was not part of the mainstream opinion at the time in that I was more for the war than the average student; I thought that the Vietnam War was winnable. I didn't think we should go in to help and then just leave the South Vietnamese in worse shape. I was upset that we left South Vietnam the way we did. I had a conservative political view and had considered joining the Young American for Freedom group, but decided not to. There was a very anti-war feeling on campus at the time, with at least 70% of the people against the Vietnam War. It was the "in thing" or popular thing to think.
You were in the ROTC. Did you experience any problems with Anti-War demonstrators or students because of this?
No. I never experienced any animosity on campus when I wore my ROTC uniform after drills. Sometimes I would have to wear my uniform to class after ROTC practice, and nobody ever said anything derogatory to me about it.
I remember the only letter I ever got from my dad during college was when I decided to join the ROTC…he pleaded with me not to join. He was worried about me having to go to Vietnam.
What do you think caused the unrest that started on Friday, May 1st, 1970?
Friday nights were big "party nights" at Kent State. It was a warm spring night that Friday, so everyone would be out. You could walk into the town of Kent from campus and a lot of people would go to the bars on Fridays…some non-students from Cleveland. I don’t know how it all started, but I heard some people broke bank windows…there was a thought among some students that banks were making money on the war. Stories about police beatings were heard. The bars were closed early on Friday night, so a lot of people got really mad about that. I had gone to an artistic film viewing that night (it turned out to be pretty much porn,) so I wasn’t at the bars that night. I didn’t see any fires that night.
What were your thoughts on the ROTC Building being burnt down?
The ROTC building was really a set of 3 buildings. One was burnt down…the one that housed the rifle range. We had shooting practice there. The buildings were an old barracks style like you’d see in WWII. They were really in bad shape before that, and there was talk of demolishing them. I don’t think the National Guard was prepared for the ROTC Building to be burnt down. There is controversy as to who started it…all the demonstrators joined in.
It actually took a long time for them to start the fire. The fire wasn't starting with what they where first using. A buddy of mine had parked his motorcycle at the ROTC building. Someone knocked over his motorcycle and soaked stuff with the gas from his tank to get the fire going.
After the campus was closed, the FBI came to my parents’ house to question me about my friend (to cooborate his story to make sure he wasn't the one to start the fire or part of the group to start it). He didn’t have anything to do with it; he just left his bike by the building.
You lived at Stopher Hall that year. What did you see over the 4 day period?
Saturday, when the ROTC building was burned, there were helicopters flying low. Tear gas was used a lot on Saturday by the National Guard. I was in my dorm that night, and the Stopher Hall was gassed when some of the canisters overshot the demonstrators and hit the 1st and 2nd floors of the hall. It was pretty bad, so a lot of the students that lived there started to go outside to get away from it. Some of the guards were telling us we had to get back inside the building.
Sunday was pretty quiet. There was a lot of "Love Your Neighbor" type talk on campus and flowers in gun barrels. A lot of students thought the National Guard would leave.
Then Monday, there was a rally in the Commons. There were only about 150 people assembled when it started. Kent State had about 8,000 - 10,000 students on campus then. A lot of people gather in the Commons. You couldn’t see as much from Stopher Hall as from Olson or Lake Hall. From Stopher, I could see the side of the hill on the Commons where the guards were. I started to walk outside to get a better look. (The National Guard had been using rubber bullets on Saturday night, so I was curious to see what rubber bullets were.) I was about 60 feet out when I heard one initial shot and then a volley of shots. It was like a "Boom …Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom," type sound. I thought they were using rubber bullets like Saturday night. I couldn’t believe it when I found out they were using live ammunition.
People started talking about charging the National Guard. The Guard were at the ROTC building after the shootings. Emotions were building up more and so was the crowd. Professor Franks pleaded with the students not to charge the National Guard. The students listened to him. If they hadn’t, there would have been even more injuries.
One noticeable issue was that the Black community at Kent State University boycotted the demonstrations on Monday. It was said that their thoughts were: If the Guards shoot, they’ll shoot Black people first.
(See Jackson State University shooting on May 14-15, 1970.)
Do you think the shootings were accidental or not?
I am almost sure that some of the shots by the Guard were to intentionally hit some of the students. The students didn't have guns. If they had, they would have used them already.
Is it true that you were friends with one of the students that was shot? Was he a bystander or a protestor at the demonstration?
I was friends with John Cleary, who was just taking pictures of what was happening. He was by the Architect Building. He was hit in the chest 2 times. Luckily, the bullets missed his vital organs…barely. The guard just turned and shot at him. Later, his photographs were confiscated.
How did the events of that week affect your college studies as well as your outlook on the world?
Kent State closed down on Monday for the rest of the term. I went back home and finished up. I had mostly essays to write for my classes. My mother was an English teacher, so she checked my work. My grades that semester were better than usual.
I was surprised that there wasn’t a revolution after the shootings took place. I thought there would be a bigger event after that.
My big question over the shootings was "Why didn’t the Governor bring in the State Police?" The Governor was running for office again that year, and I think he was trying to keep law and order. I guess he thought the National Guard would do it, but the State Police had more experience with demonstrators than the National Guard, and that same Guard had just been at the Trucker’s Strike right before Kent State. I think that if the police had handled it instead of the Guard it would have had a different outcome.
Do you still perceive the events of May 4th, 1970 the same way today? If not, how has your perception changed?
My perception of the events hasn’t changed. I think I still feel the same as I did then.
Do you agree with the statement: The students during the 1960s – 1970s were more politically active and participated in demonstrations, etc. more than students today? If so, why do you think this is?
I don’t know the students today, so I can’t really say for sure. Back then, demonstrations were the "in thing." There was a party atmosphere associated with it. A lot of the students didn’t know what the issues where all about, sometimes they just wanted to party. The conservatives on campus were not as organized as the liberal groups.
Also, I think the Draft may have had something to do with it. We would have "Lottery Parties." There was a lottery draft, so guys would go out drinking at these parties on the night that they called out the draft numbers from the lottery…but if they called your number, you lost.
Before the Vietnam War, Kent State was more of a teachers’ school, so the women outnumbered the men. After the draft, more men tried to get deferments by going to college. Kent State had a low tuition rate, so a lot more men from other states came, because even the out-of-state rate was lower than universities in some other states. So, the mixture of students changed on campus. There were more men, and a lot of students were coming in from New York and New Jersey, and east coast states. These students were more into politics than the typical Midwestern student. They brought a more political attitude to the school. There was a theory out there that if you were poor, you didn’t have the money to get a college deferment. But I heard of guys using drugs to spike their blood pressure to get out of going, too.
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