The Digital Journalist

Bruce Dzeda     Hear the Oral History in RealAudio
Hi, my name is Bruce Dzeda and I live at [address removed to protect privacy rights] currently. I am forty-six years old, going on forty-seven, my birthday is in June. I am a member of the June class of 1970 and I was -- and I remember May 4th very clearly. In fact I find myself still radicalized by it. I think it was one of those searing experiences that changed me forever, even though I wasn't actually witness to the shootings, but some of the stuff afterwards.  

Where would I want to begin? I guess I'd begin by saying that in 1969, I was part of the demonstrations on the Commons and at Music & Speech building when, I think there was SDS members, who had been blocking the doors to the "Mucus and Speech building" as we called it, because there was a meeting going on over suspensions of students for something or other, I forget which. Anyway, there was a commotion in front of the Music & Speech building, and I remember seeing these great big burly football types beating the living hell out of girls and other guys who were demonstrating against it. And after these football player types got through beating these girls up, they sang the Star Spangled Banner. And I remember that, that affected me because I didn't sing the Star Spangled Banner for about the next ten years. It was my way of protesting that.  

So, I was a campus radical in '69. But I wasn't a long-haired campus radical and I wasn't as radical as some people. Because the truth of it was, that although I was trying to bring down Nixon's fascist government, I was trying to replace it with a constitutional monarchy. I've never quite understood that conundrum in myself but I'm still a monarchist and I still hate Nixon. Well anyway, I remember feeling that was very exciting. I think Wordsworth once said about the French Revolution, but it could be said about being young at Kent State, "Bliss it was to be alive, but to be young was very heaven."  

It was a pretty heady experience being twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two years old on the campus of Kent State, at the same time that Hair was playing in New York and campus radicals were being radical. I guess it's because I am a hell-raiser and also because I'm opposed to the university's attitude about so many things that I found myself being pretty much inclined to go along with a lot of radicalism.  

Well, let's go back to the -- to the May 4th thing. In fact let's go back to a little bit before this. The Saturday night before May 4th, well in fact that whole Spring quarter I was -- I was student teaching. I was off campus, I was living back with my parents in Cleveland Heights and I was student teaching. But that Saturday of the May 4th weekend, I was invited by a lady friend of mine to come to her party at Rhodes Road apartments. So, I went, and it was a pretty interesting party too. And I remember somewhere late in the evening, someone saying "Oh look, there's smoke, there's fire."  

So we all went outside and we saw smoke going up in the air. Of course we didn't know what it was at first, and then the word came it was the ROTC building. And I remember being the only person at the party who thought it was a good idea to burn down the ROTC building. First off, because it was a symbol of Nixon's fascist, repressive government, ROTC had no place on a college campus I thought then, I don't know that I feel that way anymore. But I also thought, well it's an ugly building, you know, it's the only way they're going to get rid of this stuff at Kent State, otherwise these temporary buildings will be here forever, so let's get rid of the building.  

I found out later on that the -- possibly, you know, that the fire hoses that the policemen were -- or the firemen were -- cut while they were attempting to douse the flames, and I ah, was con..., amused -- I guess is the right word -- to find that the guy who lived next door to me in the dormitory -- he's dead -- I guess we can mention his name now, his name was George Harror. George had a machete -- actually it was called limb trim, I guess it was to be used for pruning trees. Anyway, it was a machete, and somehow, I don't know if it was George, but somebody got a hold of George's machete and it was one of the implements being used to hack up the fire hoses that night.  

I guess I see the burning of the ROTC building as sort of a big lark and didn't really realize the affect it would have. When I left the campus that night, I think it was well after midnight, but as I left the campus to drive back to Cleveland Heights, I remember driving over the Summit Street hill down past McGilvery Hall, and seeing armored personnel carriers, and all kinds of army vehicles coming up onto the campus. And I remember thinking something along the lines of "Holy hell, this is, this is really going to be something, this is getting out of hand here."  

Well, I got home that night and Sunday I had, I followed what happened Sunday in the paper as I recall, but I really don't have any memories of Sunday at all. Monday was my day to go student teach again, so I was student teaching in Shaw High School in East Cleveland and I had borrowed a movie from the Kent State Library at White Hall, so the requirement was that on Monday we would stop student teaching at noon and we would drive to the Kent campus and there would be an afternoon -- long afternoon class session to go to for student teachers.  

So, I left student teaching, I took the movie film that I was to return in my hand and I walked to my car, I got in my car, started my car up. I remember driving up Terrace Road and Oak Hill Roads in East Cleveland, put the radio on and all of a sudden the news came on, and the first news I heard was that two students and two National Guardsmen had been shot dead at a demonstration on the Kent campus. Needless to say, I was stunned and amazed by this, I can still point out - I think - where I was in Oakland Road when I heard that. Well then, you could tell that something really awful was going on, and of course my natural intonation was "let's go to Kent and find out what happened for God's sake, all my friends are there, plus I got this movie to deliver."  

So, I drove down to the Kent campus and I, and I remember I got to, I got to Streetsboro and a road block across 43 South, they weren't letting anybody into Kent. And I said "Well, I got this movie to return" and I remember this policeman type saying, you know, " Go to hell, you are not going to Kent" or something like that. I thought "what can I do?" So, I drove down 14, I don't know why, I guess I just drove down 14, I discovered that Diagonal Road was open. So, I turned down Diagonal Road, I eventually ended up back on 43 and I got over to Kent State.  

By that time I heard on the news, the shootings had been on the Commons or that part of the campus near Taylor Hall. So I parked my car, I don't remember where, and there were students everywhere. And there were students, students were walking around as if they were ducks that had been struck on the head by a board, they were just stunned, nobody knew where to go, and it was, I remember it being chaotic, but I remember being very confused, very upsetting.  

Somehow, I came across a friend of mine from the dorm where I used to live, his name is Curtis Errickson. Curt, Curt, who I think had been present at the shooting, preceded to tell me exactly what had happened. And as Curt and I were talking, there were books of course all over the place, and we saw some books that we just ah, pretty much had a lot of blood on them, at one point I remember. So, we flipped open the book and sure enough it was, the book belonged to Robby Stamps. Robby was Curt's roommate. Robby was a very, very good friend of mine, lived literally right next door to me in the dormitory. At that point somebody said that Robby had been wounded and had been taken away, or anyway, Robby had been shot. We weren't sure, he may have been dead. Anyway, Robby had been taken away, here his books soaked in his own blood, and [pause] I remember the chill I got.  

Well, we walked around a little bit and then I guess they were closing the campus, or something like that. Anyway, we left campus and we went over to Main Street. So, you have to remember though, I got to Kent about an hour after the shooting, so things were pretty hot, so some -- about an hour and a half or maybe two hours after the shootings, I'm now sitting on the north side of Main Street near the corner of Willow Street, I think I was sitting in front of the SAE house which used to be located there, now it's an empty lot.  

I remember seeing something I'll never forget as long as I live, and that is cars of Portage County red-neck tuffs driving up and down the street. I remember one car in particular, a white car, with four men riding it with rifles sticking out of all the windows. And quite literally, they were looking for students to shoot, they were looking for people who were just gonna act up or demonstrate. I never became so aware of the town/gown hatred that existed in this town as I was then. I had some experiences that really [pause], I'd once been at Venice Café when a guy tried to burn cigarette holes on my coat. "You're better than I am" he said, he said "you think you're better than I am because you go to school up on the hill" and I remember saying "no I don't," but I also remember the bartender didn't do anything. So watch, and I remember seeing in '69, I remember all kinds of Portage County sheriffs and police, and everything else, wearing riot gear and helmets and night  sticks, just itching for a chance to beat up students.  

I think what people have to remember, there was a great deal of jealousy and -- and distrust of students. After all, we had -- we had an easy life, you know, all we did was party and get laid and we didn't, we didn't, you know, we didn't have to work hard, we didn't have to go to Vietnam, and I think a lot of people who did worked hard, did have to go to Vietnam, felt that way.  

Well anyway, watching these cars going up and down Main Street with people just itching to shoot students, I guess I came pretty close to hating people that day. Well, I sat there for a while, we talked to other people and it was, you know, obviously nothing else was going to happen, but it was just real scary. There was a sense of camaraderie together I guess.  

Well anyway, it got toward the end of the afternoon and then they announced that not only would the campus be closed but the whole town was going to be emptied out of students who didn't belong there, or words of that effect, and it was time for me to go home. So, I got into my car, and I drove up Main Street and at the corner of Main and South Mantua Streets, apparently I could not go north on 43, I guess that was out, so I had to go west towards Stow to pick up 91 North. As I got to the corner of Main and Mantua, my very best friend of the whole world, Bob Christner, who was, God bless his departed soul, Bob was every bit the campus radical I was. Bob still lived at, Bob lived at the Riverview apartments when he was working at Roadway Express - I guess he called it Roadway Distress in those days - but Bob was coming back from his job and by the merest coincidence of chance we met literally in that intersection. Our two cars met each other. We stopped and we talked. We could talk for quite a while because there wasn't very much traffic. And we just both were like: "Did you hear?" "yes I heard," "what do you think?" "I don't know" "isn't it awful," all that kind of little stuff. Finally, other traffic did come, Bob had to go back to his apartment, I had to go home.  

I remember the weather that day, I remember it in Cleveland, anyway, when I left it'd been what we call partly cloudy, or partly sunny. Anyway, it had been sunny for a good part of the morning, then clouded up. As I drove down 59 towards 91 and as I started heading north on 91, particularly as I got around Twinsburg, it started to rain pretty heavily. Almost like tears from heaven, I guess.  

Well, I got home and my parents were very unhappy to hear that I had gone to Kent. My grandmother was living in the house for few weeks at that point, and I don't think I was in the house twenty minutes and we were in a shouting, screaming argument with each other as my grandmother and my mother and dad took the approach that they should have shot all of them. "How dare students rebel against their own government, how dare students speak up against the war, how dare, how dare students not do what they're told." I think that was the main thing. I think, you'll remember that control was a major idea in the 50's. You' had to do what you're told, not challenge authority, submit, submit. That wasn't the way of campus radicals. I got into a shouting, screaming match with my parents, and, of course that ended with a lot of pain and agony.  

Now, the days to come, another Kent student and I, who was, who also student teach at Shaw High School, had to of course, answer all the questions about what happened, from our students. I remember the faculty at Shaw High School being not very sympathetic, as a matter of fact. Again, a lot of people took that approach, you know, "how dare they, they should have shot them all." Gradually, things calmed down.  

Now, of course there is some other interesting stuff. What were we gonna do about classes? God bless the faculty at Kent State, I remember that shortly after as I received a note that all Kent alumni, all Kent students were to meet, I guess there was this one Church in Lakewood where we all were going to meet, we would talk about the problems, and what we're going to do. So, we all went out there. And I think what bugged me up [side a of the tape is ended]  

As I said we went to, there was a meeting for Kent students at a church in Lakewood, to talk about what to do, and I remember being thoroughly unhappy with my own classmates. Some of whom ah, they're sole worry was: "How am I gonna graduate? What about my credits?" I remember a bunch of us thinking "Jesus Christ, don't you realize that four of us are dead. A bunch of us were wounded, they were shooting at us, for God's sake, and you worry about your god-damned grade." But grades are important to people, and me too. I mean I was a senior, I was about to graduate. I do remember that we had to go to a couple of, what I would call baloney classes, at this church. And anyway, basically the professors were, they gave us the option: we could have grades or pass/fail, I guess. And I decided to take the pass/fail option. I didn't think I wanted a grade, pass/fail sounded good to me, or something.  

So anyway, I took that option and, I guess I -- I want to reiterate that I was really disappointed in the response of Kent students. I expected that they all would be radicals, that everybody would have been radicalized by this, but it doesn't seem to be the case. There were many students who were completely unsympathetic to what had happened and felt those kids got just what they deserved up there, you know.  

Well, the next time Kent State hit me in the face was graduation. Graduation was held at the Memorial Gym and the information came to us in the mail, about how to get ready for graduation. I had another fight with my parents over the issue that I wanted to protest by not wearing a cap with gown. There was an option, you didn't have to wear cap and gown, I sure as hell didn't want to wear cap and gown. Well, I remember my parents, my mother especial was very unhappy, said she wouldn't go to grad.., commencement unless I did and I guess I've always knuckled under my parents ultimately, because I, you know, I loved them and didn't want them to be unhappy and college graduation was a big thing, so what the hell, I wore the God damn robe, you know.  

But I remember get..., I remember driving down to the commencement and Kent State was already a month behind us, I remember seeing other cars on the road passing me down, people from Pennsylvania coming to see their kids graduating. It felt like a regular graduation until you got to campus and saw there were soldiers everywhere. I remember seeing soldiers with automatic weapons guarding the entrance to the, to the Gymnasium.  

Somehow, John Weiser, who's the faculty guy in charge of commencement. John put together a pretty incredible commencement program. But to tell you the honest to God truth, I don't remember who the speaker was or what he said. I think it was Dr. White who spoke. But I wasn't very impressed with it. The, they gave us our folders and later on we got our diplomas and teaching certificates and I shook the dust of Kent State University off of my sandals and, and went on.  

Now it seems to me in retrospect, that the most important thing about May 4th was that it absolutely killed, it put pave to the whole idea of student activism all over the country. I remember hearing that afternoon, on the commons, kids saying stuff like "that does it I'm not going to stay interested in politics, who gives a damn about this world, all they're going to do is shoot you anyway, we can't change anything, I'm just going to worry about my own interior furniture." And so, on the spot, people turned inward, and the War in Cambodia, the War in Vietnam, all those other raging disputes, became less and less important. People started talking about going to Vermont and living in an ashram or moving to California, getting away from it all, not talking about it.  

If you wanted to know when the sixties died -- they died on May 4th, 1970, right there and you can name the time, right there at 12:25 in the afternoon the sixties ended, that was it, period, that was it and the curtain came down. Now some people think the sixties went on as late as 1972. That somehow by 1972 things began to change. And true, I think popular music was the same for the next couple of years and there was some sort of real break about '72. But for my money, the real long term effect of Kent State, is that killed the student activism and it brought the curtain down on the sixties. And instead of the activist sixties we now had the "me" decade. The period of the seventies when we were just going to worry about ourselves.  

Well, as it turns out Robby Stamps recovered form his wounds. Another guy that I knew very well, Doug MacKenzie, Scott MacKenzie, I guess he's called, lived, I think he lived downstairs in Harbourt Hall. We all lived in Harbourt Hall, Stamps lived in the quad, I lived, I think in room 235 or 6, I forget which. MacKenzie lived in the basement. I remember that at the time, I think that Doug MacKenzie, or Scott MacKenzie, was one of the nicest looking young men I'd ever seen, and I heard he'd been hit in the jaw by a bullet, and Holy Christ, there goes his face. I think I've seen him afterwards. Anyway, people tell me that -- I think I have seen him, and his face made a remarkable recovery. And he looks, I guess you wouldn't know that he was hit by a huge bullet.  

What else do I remember about May 4th? I guess that's really about it. Chances are, if I had more Scotch I could probably think of a longer story, but I don't think I have any more details. I carried the wounds with me for a long time with me now. Even now I can't discuss it with the faculty members here at Roosevelt High School because I, most of them are townies and they are very unsympathetic with the whole thing.  

To have gone through May 4th one way or the other, I think you carry this with you for ever. And Christner is dead now, I don't see Stamps anymore. I haven't met MacKenzie since that. If I have met other Kent students we don't talk much about it. We've all gotten older, we've got paunchy bellies and gray hair and that sort of thing, but deep down inside of me I'm still a campus radical, I'm still antagonistic towards Republicans in general and maybe the government a little bit.  

All I know is that it changed me forever, and every now and then, every year, I bring out my Hair album, I play my Hair album in the Springtime because I went to see Hair in New York the year previous. In fact, I had the fourth pair of bell bottoms on the Kent State University campus that Spring. By the following Autumn everybody had them, they were like navels, you know, everybody had them. But I play my records and I try to psyc myself into it, but it's not quite the same anymore. I missed the sixties. I missed Kent State at that point.  

I also remember this though. I surely, in early 1971 I had a job in San Francisco. I used to hang out in the bookstores. And the books on Kent State were coming out. I used to like to read them, they made me feel like I was home again, I guess. But I remember one book by I. F. Stone, I think it was called "What happened to Kent State University and Why" or something like that or "The truth about Kent State." Stone said something about Kent State students which was one of the most damning indictments I ever heard and it was absolutely true. In referring to the days immediately before May 4th, Stone said "anybody on campus who read 'Time magazine' from cover to cover was considered an intellectual." And that's pretty much it, Kent was a commuter school, you know, it was a place full of kids who were interested in becoming student teachers, and not necessarily great scholars. A lot of us were from blue collar Catholic backgrounds, I think it very much colors how we look at things.  

I think I'm pretty much out of things to say at this point. It's been a real privilege to share these thoughts and to try to go back to all of that. I can't imagine what use this is going to be to anybody. Except to say that maybe you can go into the zeitgeist of it by listening to these interviews, and maybe the past has something to say to the future, maybe the blood of the slain cries out for justice.  

I sure hope it never happens again [pause], but I sure hope that the students walk, wake up out of their somnabulance. I hope the students of the future will pick up the torch that we had, it might burn bright, it might bring light to this world and the students might stand for more than grades and money and good jobs and so forth. That might be some attempt at idealism of giving back, something that we had.  

Well that's it. Time's up. Good-bye. 


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