Yesterday we ran Michael Winship’s column remembering what it was like to be a college student 40 years ago on May 4, when the Ohio National Guard opened fire on an anti-war demonstration at Kent State University, killing for students and injuring nine others. Now a new enhanced tape contains a bombshell: the Guards were given an order to prepare to fire and it was not a spontaneous event:
The Ohio National Guardsmen who fired on students and antiwar protesters at Kent State University on May 4, 1970 were given an order to prepare to shoot, according to a new analysis of a 40-year-old audio tape of the event.
“Guard!” says a male voice on the recording, which two forensic audio experts enhanced and evaluated at the request of The Plain Dealer. Several seconds pass. Then, “All right, prepare to fire!”
“Get down!” someone shouts urgently, presumably in the crowd. Finally, “Guard! . . . ” followed two seconds later by a long, booming volley of gunshots. The entire spoken sequence lasts 17 seconds.
The previously undetected command could begin to explain the central mystery of the Kent State tragedy – why 28 Guardsmen pivoted in unison atop Blanket Hill, raised their rifles and pistols and fired 67 times, killing four students and wounding nine others in an act that galvanized sentiment against the Vietnam War.
The order indicates that the gunshots were not spontaneous, or in response to sniper fire, as some have suggested over the years.
The analysis is done by a nationally respected forensic audio expert team Stuart Allen and Tom Owen. They have worked for years with government and law enforcement agencies on projects such as this. And on the Kent State killings there’s a reason beyond historical: litigation is still going on regarding the killings.
Allen is president and chief engineer of the Legal Services Group in Plainfield, N.J. Owen is president and CEO of Owl Investigations in Colonia, N.J. They donated their services because of the potential historical significance of the project.
Although they occasionally testify on opposing sides in court cases hinging on audio evidence, Owen and Allen concur on the command’s wording. Both men said they are confident their interpretation is correct, and would testify to its accuracy under oath, if asked.
Talk Left’s Jeralyn, who is a Denver attorney, has the latest version on her site as well as earlier recordings. She writes:
Tom Owen was the tape expert I worked with during McVeigh. I spent days with him in New York analyzing audio and videos of the OKC bombing, like the security camera video the Government alleged showed McVeigh at a McDonalds 24 minutes before the Ryder truck was rented. (He was wearing different pants than those described by the employees at the body shop where the truck was rented.) He’s very good.
PERSONAL NOTE: Those of us of that generation remember that day, even if we supported the Vietnam War. I had up until that day and Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia during my sophomore year at college supported the war and lost some friends because of that. (Freshman year a political science professor actually said in class: “The Nazis, like Mr. Gandelman, waved the flag…” This professor later became a good friend and apologized: I mean, how can you HATE a five foot one, hyperactive Connecticut Jew?)
On the day of the Kent State killings, student organizers held a meeting in the Shepardson House cafeteria’s dining hall. There was a big turnout. “They’re killing kids now!” one of the organizers said.
Standing in the corner, listening to it all quietly and taking notes, was an editor of the Colgate Maroon newspaper named Howard Fineman.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.