Mr. John Mangels
The Cleveland Plain Dealer
Dear Mr. Mangels:
I admire your article on the Kent State "order to fire" tape. Kent State
I especially like the fact that your opening sentence correctly states that some of the students shot were protestors and some were not. That distinction is often overlooked and everyone lumped together under the heading "anti-war protestors." Not so.
I would like to call your attention to a sentence in the article stating that Alan Canfora found "a copy of the tape" in "a library archive in 2007."
The archive was The Kent State Collection at Yale University's Manuscripts and Archives Division, Sterling Memorial Library, a collection which I co-founded in 1977 with Peter Davies, author of The Truth about Kent State (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux: 1973).
I had been a graduate student at Kent State when the shootings took place and later, along with the President of the Kent State Young Republican Club, Greg Rambo, I petitioned Nixon with 10,000 Kent State student and faculty signatures for a federal grand jury investigation.
When I attended Yale Divinity School (1976-80), Mr. Davies and I decided to donate his manuscript and my papers to Yale's Manuscripts and Archives Division, rather than to Kent State Library, since Kent State Library was in a conflict of interest position because of its funding source: the University and the Ohio legislature, both of which were defendants in a lawsuit brought by the parents of the slain students for the deaths of their loved ones.
Yale decided to create a"Kent State Collection" around our donations.
Larry Dowler was the archivist then (later at Harvard) and is now retired and working on a book about Kent State. Christine Weideman is currently in that position at Yale and was there when Alan's discovery was made public two years ago, I believe.
I call this minor matter to your attention because my hope had been, in arranging for the donation in 1977, to protect documents from the vagaries of time and circumstance with the belief that something important might inadvertently emerge from those protected donations.
As your article so ably suggests, Alan Canfora's discovery of the long forgotten tape has proved to be just that.
It may be that scholarship has, at long last, begun to play a pivotal role in the unfolding history of the slayings at Kent Sate, May 4, 1970.
Many thanks for your attention,
Paul D. Keane,
M.A., M. Div., M. Ed.
I am taking the liberty of sending courtesy copies of this email to Alan Canfora and archivists Larry Dowler and Christine Weideman; and to Greg Rambo, the co-petitioner for a federal grand jury; to the attorney who represented the Kent State families, Sanford Jay Rosen; and to longtime scholars of the Kent State slayings, Professor Jerry Lewis (Kent State emeritus) and Professor J. Gregory Payne, Emerson College.
I do not have Mr. Davies's address or I would send him a copy of this email also.
Audio analysis offers new take on Kent tragedy
Prepare-to-fire order given to Guard, recording indicates
Sunday, May 9, 2010 2:57 AM
By John Mangels
THE PLAIN DEALER
PLAINFIELD, N.J. - 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 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.
"I think this is a major development," said Alan Canfora, one of the wounded, who located a copy of the tape in a library archive in 2007 and has urged that it be professionally reviewed.
"There's been a grave injustice for 40 years because we lacked sufficient evidence to prove what we've known all along - that the Ohio National Guard was commanded to kill at Kent State on May 4, 1970."
The review was done by Stuart Allen and Tom Owen, two nationally respected forensic audio experts.
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 that they would testify to its accuracy under oath, if asked.
The original 30-minute reel-to-reel tape was made by Terry Strubbe, a Kent State communication student in 1970 who turned on his recorder and put its microphone in his dorm window overlooking the campus Commons, hoping to document the protest.
It is the only known recording to capture the events leading up to the shootings - including a tinny bullhorn announcement that students must leave "for your own safety," the pop of tear gas canisters and the coughs of people in their path, the raucous protest chants, the drone of helicopters overhead, and the near-constant chiming of the campus victory bell to rally protesters.
Strubbe has kept the original tape in a bank vault. He recently has been working with a colleague to have it analyzed and to produce a documentary about what the examination reveals.
The Justice Department paid an acoustics firm to scrutinize the recording in 1974 in support of the government's ultimately unsuccessful attempt to prosecute eight Guardsmen for the shootings. That review focused on the gunshot pattern and made no mention of a command readying the soldiers to fire.
Using sophisticated software, Allen weeded out extraneous noises - wind blowing across the microphone, and a low rumble from the tape recorder's motor and drive belt - that obscured voices on the recording.
He isolated individual words, then boosted certain characteristics of the sound or slowed the playback to make out what was said. Owen independently corroborated Allen's work.
Without a known voice sample for comparison, the new analysis cannot answer the question of who issued the prepare-to-fire command.
Most of the senior Ohio National Guard officers directly in charge of the troops who fired May 4, 1970, have since died. Ronald Snyder, a former Guard captain who led a unit that was at the Kent State protest but was not involved in the shootings, said Friday that the prepare-to-fire phrasing on the tape does not seem consistent with how military orders are given.
Whether the prepare-to-fire order could lead to new legal action or a reopened investigation of the Kent State shootings is unclear. A federal judge dismissed the charges against the eight indicted Guardsmen in 1974, saying the government had failed to prove its case. The surviving victims and families of the dead settled their civil lawsuit for $675,000 in 1979, agreeing to drop all future claims against the Guardsmen.
The federal acquittal means the soldiers could not be prosecuted again at the federal level, although a county or state official potentially could seek criminal charges, said Sanford Rosen, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys in the civil lawsuit.