Thursday, May 4, 2000 in the Seattle TimesMy Son Died 30 Years Ago At Kent State
by Elaine Holstein
Today is the 30th anniversary of the killing of four
students - including my son Jeff Miller - at Kent State University by the
Ohio National Guard.
At a few minutes past noon today, I am once again
observing this anniversary - an anniversary that marks not only the most
tragic event of my life but also one of the most disgraceful episodes in
Thirty years! That's 10 years longer than Jeff's life. He
had turned 20 just a month before he decided to attend the protest rally
that ended in his death and the deaths of Allison Krause, Sandy Scheuer and
Bill Schroeder, and the wounding of nine of their fellow students.
That Jeff chose to attend that demonstration came as no
surprise to me. Anyone who knew him in those days would have been shocked
if he had decided to sit that one out.
There were markers along the way that led him inexorably
to that campus protest. At the age of 8, Jeff wrote an article expressing
his concern for the plight of black Americans. I learned of this only when
I received a call from Ebony magazine, which assumed he was black and
assured me he was bound to be a "future leader of the black community."
Shortly before his 16th birthday, Jeff composed a poem he
called "Where Does It End?" In it, he expressed the horror he felt about
"the War Without a Purpose." So when Jeff called me on the morning of May
4th and told me he planned to attend a rally to protest the "incursion" of
U.S. military forces into Cambodia, I merely expressed my doubt as to the
effectiveness of still another demonstration.
"Don't worry, Mom," he said. "I may get arrested, but I
won't get my head busted." I laughed and assured him I wasn't worried.
The bullet that ended Jeff's life also destroyed the
person I had been - a naive, politically unaware woman. Until the spring of
1970, I would have stated with absolute assurance that Americans have the
right to dissent publicly from the policies pursued by their government.
The Constitution says so.
And even if the dissent got noisy and disruptive, was it
conceivable that an arm of the government would shoot at random into a
crowd of unarmed students? With live ammunition? No way!
The myth of a benign America was one casualty of the
shootings at Kent State. Another was my assumption that everyone shared my
belief that we were engaged in a no-win situation in Vietnam and had to get
As the body count mounted and the footage of napalmed
babies became a nightly television staple, I was certain that no one would
want the war to go on. The hate mail that began arriving at my home after
Jeff died showed me how wrong I was.
To most people, Kent State is just one of those traumatic
events that occurred during a tumultuous time. To me, it's the one
experience I will never recover from. It's also the one gap in my
communication with my older son, Russ: Neither of us dares to talk about
what happened at Kent State for fear that we'll open floodgates of emotion
we can't deal with.
Whenever there is another death in the family, we not only
mourn the elderly parent or grandparent or aunt who has passed away; we
also experience again the loss of Jeff.
Elaine Holstein lives in New York. She can be reached at
[P.S. Two days after this incident, two black students at Jackson State
University in Mississippi were also killed by the National Guard. These six
students were peacefully and constitutionally protesting an unjust war and
tragically became victims of it.]
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