Steve Miller vividly recalls seeing photographs of the four Kent State University students who died May 4, 1970, when the Ohio National Guard fired shots at a Vietnam War protest.
The Toledo man had enlisted in the Army and was serving in Japan. He was listening to a Judy Collins album when he flipped open a magazine, saw the students’ faces, and began to cry.
On Sunday, 44 years later, about 10 members of Northwest Ohio Peace Coalition gathered at the busy intersection of Secor Road and Central Avenue in Toledo. Several struggled against a brisk wind to hold posters showing the students’ photographs so passing motorists could see their faces, remember their names.
Around 12:24 p.m., the moment of the 1970 shooting, Mr. Miller chimed a bell 13 times — a ring each for the four killed and the nine injured.
“They were my age. I felt so sad,” Mr. Miller recalled. “They hadn’t really begun their lives yet.”
The country seemed to crackle with tension.
“In 1970, the nation was clearly divided and polarized as far as the war was concerned, and I think Kent State was a microcosm of what was happening in the country,” he said.
The atmosphere at the university had been charged days before the shootings that killed Jeffrey Miller, Allison Krause, William Schroeder, and Sandra Scheuer.
Officials called in the national guard and rumors of a “radical plot” circulated, according to the university’s special collections and archives Web site.
On May 2, the Army’s Reserve Officer Training Corps campus building was set on fire.
The day of the shootings, a couple thousand people gathered for a rally. Guardsmen using tear gas and holding bayonets tried to force the crowd to disperse, and then shots rang out.
“I was in my early 20s when it happened, and it was just one of those kind of unsettling events during the Vietnam War that, you know, made me even question more deeply what was going on,” said Sister Sharon Havelak of the Sisters of St. Francis in Sylvania and a coalition member.
Karen Wolf of Bowling Green was a student at the University of Toledo at the time. She and her classmates participated in a vigil on Bancroft Street to honor the victims of the violence. She remembered a sense of disbelief regarding the deadly event on another Ohio campus.
It’s more difficult now to engage college students in peace efforts and protests because there’s no draft, she said, as she stood holding a bright yellow sign Sunday that read “Remember Kent State.”
The shootings took place when Terry Lodge of Holland was a student at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. He remembered a “growing sense” that things were spinning “terribly out of control.” That it happened at a midwestern school in Ohio “shook a lot of people up,” he said.
Members of the local coalition have commemorated the Kent State anniversary in other years.
In 2006, members traveled to Kent, Ohio, for the 36th anniversary of the university shootings. They set up a couple thousand tombstones to signify the U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq as a reminder that war continues.
“We seem to have forgotten how awful those times were,” Mr. Miller said of the Vietnam era.