By GENE HERRICK
A Jounalist’s Memory Book
It doesn’t seem that long ago, but this year marks the 50th anniversary of the nationwide college campus riots because of the Vietnam War.
It all started on April 30, 1970, when then-President Richard Nixon announced expansion of the Vietnam War.
Then all hell broke out across the country. There were student uprisings, demonstrations, riots and four student killings, in the riots that involved six million across the nation.
I remember them well, and I covered three of the riots and demonstrations at Ohio State University, Ohio University and later Kent State University, all in Ohio. The killings at Kent State resulted from poorly trained National Guardsmen.
As an Associated Press photographer, I went to the Ohio State campus to cover one of the uprisings. It was one of the most interesting psychological events. On the High Street north campus, there was a speaker’s stand, and on it was an unidentified man jabbering about the problem. I was standing, with my camera, about 40 yards away on High Street. I noticed two obvious students, well-dressed and carrying brief cases. We listened for some time. Suddenly the speaker got more raucous, and the two students start drifting toward the speaker. I thought it was highly interesting to watch people being “sucked in” to the inflaming voice.
I moved toward the speaker and spotted a couple of FBI agents posing as news photographers. I told them they had no right to do this and asked them to leave. In the meantime, the Ohio National Guard was sent into action. I went back up the field so that I could move in with the guard. That was all dandy until the guard started shooting pepper gas. Pepper gas is at least twice as bad as plain old tear gas — it really makes you tear up, but also burns. Suddenly, someone placed a wet rag over my eyes, told me to hold it and immediately led me to safety. “You’ve got to move fast – there is a National Guard bayonet in your back!” the guy said to me. When the eye-burning subsided somewhat I resumed covering the event.
A short time later, I went to Ohio University and covered the riot there – at night. Yep, the pepper gas came flying in and started its burning. However, this time I had a gas mask, which was provided to me by an Ohio highway patrolman, who was my neighbor. He knew what I would be facing. Boy, it was great until the next morning. No tear gas or pepper gas was flying. I stepped into an alcove of a store only to find the pepper gas had clung to the outdoor alcove ceiling. Yep, there I was, no action, and yet I got an eye-full of pepper gas.
A little later, I went to Kent State University where four students were killed. There is a famous photograph showing a woman (MaryAnn Vecchio) student standing over the body of Jeffrey Miller — one of the dead students. A student photographer, John Filo, later got a Pulitzer Prize for that picture.
And finally, I covered the University of Kentucky, where I took pictures, but no tear gas. I processed my film, selected one and printed it. It was a shot of four students making faces with one girl student touching her forehead. As I printed that shot, I took special notice that there was writing under her bangs. It had a vulgar inscription, so I couldn’t use the picture.
Wild events were happening across the country.
The Nixon decision left many marks. The nation then, and now, still reverberates the hostility. Even President Lyndon Johnson felt the heat from that war and its continuation. That war, probably one of the dirtiest and hard-fought jungle wars of our time.