Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Remember Kent State: 1970-2010

Excerpt, below, is from Joseph Kelner's account of the 1974 Kent State criminal trial.

The exchange is between Kelner (Chief Counsel for the wounded students and the families of the murdered students) and Sergeant Leon Smith (Company A, 145th Infantry Regiment, Ohio National Guard):

When it came my turn to question Smith, I reminded him that he had just told the jury that he had been in fear of his life at the time the shooting started.

He agreed that he had.

"The only time you were struck that weekend was when a stone struck your shoe, is that right, rolled against your shoe?"

"That is the only time I was struck, that's right."

"Now sir," I said, "will you put on this gas mask and the liner and the helmet." I handed Smith the equipment. "First, do you know what this helmet is made of?"

"It's called a steel pot. I don't know what it is made of."

"A steel pot," I repeated. "Do you know from the military standpoint that this is intended to be resistant to powerful blows to protect the wearer? Is that right, sir?"

"To the head area only," Smith replied.

"Sir," I asked, "the gas mask also constituted a protection to the balance of your face, did it not?"

"Can also be used to strangle you, too," Smith replied.

"Sir, I didn't ask you that. Won't you just answer my question? I am trying to be polite to you. Will you put the gas mask and the helmet and liner on again, sir?"

Smith did so. [. . .]

"Sir," I said, "I promise I am not going to hurt you. Would you mind stepping down, sir? Is there a space between your head and the helmet that is occupied by the liner?"

"Yes, there is."

I had a large rock in my hand. I suddenly fetched him a resounding blow on the helmet. One of the jurors gasped.

"What happened to the helmet when I struck you just now with the stone?" I asked.

"You just made a sound," Smith replied. [. . .]

After Smith had reseated himself, I had him describe the rest of his equipment -- his shirt, his leather belt, his boots. Then I asked him if he had really feared for his life in all that equipment.

"I most certainly did," Smith asserted, his voice still muffled by the mask.

"You did? From what, sir, were you afraid for your life?"

"From the student that was coming at me with the rocks."

"A hundred feet away with a rock in his hand?" I asked.

"That is right. He was ready to throw it at me."

I invited Smith to remove the mask and helmet, remarking on the thickness of the mask's rubber.

He admitted that he had been struck on the helmet before, while on duty, and that it had never hurt him.

"Were you ever struck as hard as this, sir?" This time, I really clouted the helmet, which he was holding in his hand, with all my might.

"Yes," Smith said.

"Did it ever so much as make a dent or a bend in the helmet, sir? Look at it."

Smith examined the helmet. "I can't see any," he said.
From Joseph Kelner and James Munves, The Kent State Coverup (New York: Harper & Row, 1980), pp. 100-101.

5 Comments:

Blogger Kirby Olson said...

You have to wonder how much of it was class envy back then, with the guards from another class than the college-goers.

A guy whose desk this used to be told me he was a Marxist grad student at Kent State and saw one of the shootings. A young man with deliberately provocative shorts (too short, and ripped) had his butt half blown off with a shotgun fired by a guard who was very straight-laced, with trimmed hair.

1:33 PM  
Blogger Shimmy said...

Actually, Kirby, the class differences were not that great, even 40 years ago. Kent State's student body does not represent the economically elite. Some were Guardsmen.

I had to chuckle that you shoe-horned into your comment a reference to Marxism. It's part of what I've come to expect in your writing. Nice that some things are predictable, even within the flux of impermanence!

3:59 PM  
Blogger Angel said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:25 PM  
Blogger Angel said...

I was wondering where you found this interview? I'm doing my National History Day project on the Kent State shootings and would very much like to use this as a primary source. Thank you so much. :)

1:26 PM  
Blogger Shimmy said...

Hi Angel--

The citation is at the end of the blog post.

9:27 PM  

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