On Monday, May 4th, our nation observed the 50th anniversary of the Kent State University campus shootings in Northeast Ohio. A defining moment in our nation’s social and political history, the deaths of four students, and injuries of nine others, represented the palpable divide that our country endured while thousands served overseas while serving in the Vietnam War.
In fact, the American cultural divide over the Vietnam War was one I experienced quite personally and deeply. As the wife of a service member, 1st Lt. James L. Hull, it was difficult to comprehend that there were those who felt less than enthusiastic about our nation’s military and its members. It was even more difficult to acknowledge the rancor and widespread protests when my husband lost his life while flying an airplane over Laos in Southeast Asia during the war.
While there were certainly those who zealously supported the Vietnam War military intervention and our country’s service members, and others who voiced displeasure and bitterness over the war, one thing was for certain – it was a tragedy that thousands of American lives were lost. This question, at that time, almost always swept across my mind – why did so many, particularly young, people have to die?
After losing my husband, that question became paramount. The Kent State shooting was significant because not only were thousands of our service members killed overseas, four university students at Kent State were killed and others were threatened by the National Guard. The decision to go to war in Vietnam and Laos had disrupted our social, political, and economic systems, and nothing would ever be the same.
One year after the shootings at Kent State, I was in Topeka, Kansas accepting my late husband’s military medals including the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and a Purple Heart. I felt a mixture of pride and sorrow, a reflection of the complicated feelings that many people were feeling at the time. I discussed that experience in my first book, Where the Water Meets the Sand:
“I flew to Texas to show Larry’s medals to my family. On the way back to Menninger, passengers on the plane were discussing newspaper accounts of the first anniversary of the Kent State shootings. Torn by the contradiction of those young people’s deaths and the medals presented to me posthumously on behalf of my husband, I wondered why so many young Americans had to be killed before the Vietnam Conflict was resolved.” (144-145)
The American tragedies of my husband’s death, the Kent State Shootings, and the thousands of others who died or lost loved ones will not go unforgotten. Their lives mattered – on the week of the 50th Anniversary of the Kent State shootings, I am taking the time to reflect on the lives of so many Americans whose lives were utterly transformed by a devastating war.
What are your memories of the Kent State Shootings? Perhaps you were born years later but learned about the Kent State and the Vietnam and Laotian War in school. I wonder if your perspective on the Vietnam War and Kent State very different from those that those Americans who lived through it?
What is most important to you to remember about that event 50 years later?
© 2020 Tyra Manning