My days as a student at Kent State University, serving in the US Army and witnessing the tragedies of the Kent State protests, riots and massacre had a significant impact on my life. I started my college life in 1965… not yet mentally mature enough to properly apply myself… flunking out two years later. Because of my military draft status, employers were reluctant to hire me, so I enlisted in the army… a three year commitment. The army offered a three month early discharge to return to school making it possible for me to enroll at Kent State for the Spring Quarter in 1970.
This is when I was bombarded by culture shock.
Prior to joining the army, the campus was serene. It was saturated in tradition… studies, Homecoming, fraternities, good times and developing and maintaining relationships were a student’s priority. The Kent Committee to End the War in Vietnam had formed, but its members were laughed at and jeered by the bulk of the student body. The “Ballad of the Green Beret” could be heard on hundreds of dorm room stereos.
While in the army, I heard about student unrest, but it was at places like Columbia and Berkley. I never, in my wildest dreams, would believe the unrest had spread to Kent.
I enrolled and started classes while on a two week leave from the army… returning to Fort Riley for a week to process for discharge. During registration for classes, a young coed asked me if I was a pig. She noted my short hair. Upon informing her I was still in the army, she slapped me and screamed out, “Baby killer!” I lived in a room in off campus housing, and often I could smell burning pot coming from other rooms. The beautiful campus was struck with graffiti spray painted on buildings messaging anti-war slogans. I personally witnessed much of the turbulence striking Kent form May 1 to May 4. I arrived for a noon class on the fourth finding a sign taped to the classroom door with scribbling on it, “Class called off for rally.” I headed for my off campus housing. My path took me to the Commons and Blanket Hill where I personally witnessed the National Guard discharging their weapons into a crowd of protesters.
Now I’ll provide my inspiration.
Following decades of struggling with that which happened, I felt a different perspective of Kent State needed to be told. It’s not my place to tell who was right and who was wrong. It became my goal to take an “Our Town” approach of telling the story. I charged myself to develop a number of characters… the reader would find empathy for… who made choices and faced circumstances determining where in the fabric of culture they would evolve and inhabit. The story needed not to rush… but slowly progress… from a serene campus and world to one drowning in chaos. It needed to focus on a generation of young adult students and soldiers… their aspirations and insecurities… coping with their lives.
I am satisfied I achieved my goals, but I find it difficult to provide a short answer to the question, “What is the book about?” Even the genre is difficult to pinpoint. It’s listed as historical, but overlaps multiple genres including literary fiction, romance, military and tragedy.