Tin Soldiers and Millenials Coming…

I speak quite often of my generation’s long journey—of their 40 years lost in the “wilderness of self” that began the 1970’s. In his seminal book, ”Bowling Alone” , Robert Putnum wondered what happened to our society–and my generational peers–that made them wander away from a commitment to a broader community and seek solace in partitioned lives, all but cut off from the joys and responsibilities that come from being part of something bigger than yourself.

I believe its roots lie in the untreated wounds of the preceding decades deaths. First came John Kennedy, then Malcolm X, Dr King and finally, in June of 1968 (just weeks before my 10th birthday) Bobby Kennedy . But forkent many, the most personal was when, in May of 1970, National Guard troops opened fire on students who were demonstrating against the Vietnam War. For those too young to remember or for those unaware of the impact made by “four dead in Ohio” the iconic images from that fateful day still haunt my generation—none more so that the captured wailing of the “girl with the Delacroix face” as I remember her called.

This moment, compounded by those prior murders, seemed to set my generational elders adrift. Like self medicating addicts trying to dull the throb of a festering hurt, they set off, to my eyes, in vain pursuit of spiritual anesthetic—first through sex and drugs and rock and roll, then with possessions—which, like all addictions—never quite eased the pain.

I just visited Kent State, at the invitation of students who had visited DC Central Kitchen last spring and who are now establishing a Campus Kitchen to fight hunger in Portage County.

While there, I stopped by the hillside overlooking that parking lot where the spirit of my generation seemed to bleed out, and pondered the past…and the future for the students I was about to address.

  • Harriet Beauchamp

    Rob, what you have written expresses what I feel in such a deep way. I was born in 1950, and the deaths you noted still haunt me to this day. They have deeply changed my life. Thank you for summarizing so well the thoughts I felt were mostly my own. As always, I love you and am so proud to call you a family member. H

  • Abby Schneider

    Mr. Egger,

    Although I am young, born in 1990, I am very familiar with the tragedy that took place at Kent State. Like you, my father also grew up in this generation. He was 16 when the event took place and was present. I have had many discussions with my dad about what took place that day and what emotions came over him. The words that you have said really captured the essence of what he has told me. Along with our discussions, I have also had the opportunity to view photographs that he took himself on that very day. Even though I was not part of that generation I could not help but feel and overwhelming sense of sadness for the victims and their peers. The extreme measures that were taken during this era, not only at Kent State, seemed to have been irrational and the common goal of the law seemed to be scare tactics. Looking back the fear that was put into citizens seemed to fuel the anger in the younger generation and ultimately gave people the voice they needed to enforce change. Now it is the year 2011 and I am currently a student at the Kent State University. Although this event was tragic, I am proud of the history that my school has behind its name.


  • Pat Moore

    I attend Kent State University and I walk through that memorial every day. It reminds me of how different things were back then and how much things have changed. Some change has been good and some bad. Your depiction of students today being “individuals” is very true from what I see. Hopefully we have learned enough about these shootings so that we can never let something like this happen again.

  • Olivia Blatt

    I found this blog to be very insightful and interesting. I myself have been attending Kent State University for the past three years, so I am quite familiar with the Kent State shootings. I never really thought about deep rooted impacts that the tragic events, such as the Kent shootings, had on the baby boomers. The baby boomer generation was undoubtedly an era in our nation’s history that shaped the world that we live in today. I always saw the generation as a time where people took action and stood up for their rights and beliefs. After reading this blog, I can see how these events could actually encourage retreat.

  • Robert Scarborough

    The last thing you said about not raging against the machine but to take over it speaks directly to me. I am in that generation who has the purchasing power and voting power but it seems that most are either unaware of this power or just don’t care to change how they shop and never make it to vote. However, while there is few that actually take the steps needed, it seems to me that the number is growing. Hopefully more and more will make the steps in the right direction and not only get America on her feet but the rest of the world as well.

  • Alexandria

    What you have written in this post has really touched me in a special way. I was born in the 1990s, and it seems to me that much has happened since I have been alive too, but most of my generation doesn’t take the time to look back or observe really what’s happened or what’s going on because we are to focused on the “now”. I attend Kent State, and I have lived in Ohio all my life. The crazy part is, I think I heard of the Kent State shootings once prior to me attending this school, and it wasn’t from my history teacher. The things that shaped your generation were not in our history books, rather, those peers of mine who took the time to converse with their parents and understand the generation before us have the knowledge. What will happen to this information? Hopefully, those with the knowledge will pass it on, but if we don’t, we might lose the recent building blocks of this nation.

  • http://www.robertegger.org Robert Egger

    THANKS to all of you from Kent State who posted responces to this post. As you can tell, this was a poignant stop for me, and I was really impressed with the entire campus, the staff and, most of all, the students. Thanks for having me there, for the work you are doing with your new Campus Kitchen and for the future you are bringing. Props

  • Molly Martin

    I agree with everything you have said and expressed in this post. I was born in 1991 and i think a lot has changed since I was born let alone the 1970’s. I also attend Kent State and I walk by the memorial every day. It is a surreal feeling knowing someone was killed right where you are standing, its as if you were there in my mind. It is amazing how much has changed. I also never heard about the shootings until the year before I was attending Kent State, my dad told me about them because he thinks it draws a lot of historical precedence to the university. Although it was a horrible tragedy and negative attention to the university it has resulted in major changes and helped the society evolve into what it is today. I think that the affect the shootings had on the community is a good response and respectful to the lives that were lost. I agree and can only hope that what we have learned from the shooting will prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again.

  • John DiGiacobbe

    I’ll admit that it took me quite awhile to visit the May 4th site after transferring to Kent State this past summer. Having grown up in Northeastern Ohio, the events of that day never seemed to be far removed from our collective consciousness—well, in my family, at least. When I finally visited the site, I was struck by how moved I was by the experience. Even though the shootings took place a full twelve years before I was born, they still seemed to hang in the air as I stood near the pagoda and looked down on the Prentice Hall parking lot.

    While not on the same scale, parallels can certainly be drawn between the recent events in Tunisia and the current unrest in Egypt, and the events that took place during that time, not just at Kent State but at college campuses across the nation. Injustices should not be tolerated.

  • Kaylen B

    I feel like there are so many young adults now-a-days that take a lot of things for granted. I attend Kent State University and everytime I walk by this memorial it gives me a sense of comfort, I am very proud that this is my school. I love the way they honor the event that took place on that day in May. I hope everyone takes the time to really understand what it is about and I hope the students, or anyone that visits doesnt just look past it.

  • Ed C.

    I attend Kent State University as well as walk through the May 4th Memorial almost everyday. The events that happened on that day have become a trademark in American history and affected the entire generation that lived through it. Articles like this make me realize the history I pass every morning and tomorrow I will stop to think about the impact of the events that happened on the large field in the middle of campus.

  • Ed C.

    I attend Kent State University as well and walk through the May 4th Memorial almost everyday. The events that happened on that day have become a trademark in American history and affected the entire generation that lived through it. Articles like this make me realize the history I pass every morning and tomorrow I will stop to think about the impact of the events that happened on the large field in the middle of campus.

  • Shane Mc

    As a Kent State student, i often take for granted what this meant for the country. Growing up around here i also couldnt see beyond the scope of it just being a local historical event, but as we learned more about it here i was able to realize that if you can gather enough people to speak out against something, you can be heard by the right people.

  • Mohammad Alshareef


    I am a Kent Student whom has learned some of the basics of what happened and it seems that the students had such large burdens on their lives in that they were unsure of what may become a problem for them to get jobs after graduation. With migrant workers just beginning to come into this country and with such large civil movement across the nation, they must have had many worries of what was in store for them. For this to happen to students must have only made things so much worse.

  • Tracy Moavero

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the effects of the tumultuous times you remember. As a Gen-Xer (born in 1967), my experience was that the Kent shootings, the 1960’s assassinations, the war and social upheaval had left the adults around me confused and anxious. Things they believed in weren’t working the way they were supposed to. Then Watergate disoriented people even further.

    The anti-war movement was a world away from my blue collar family’s life. Vietnam was the place our neighbor had come back from on drugs, and where my fifth grade teacher had had village kids warning him of landmines and where he’d carried the bodies of friends. In my world, anti-war protesters were not liked, and even seen as threatening. (Interestingly, in the late 80s I started to hear people change their tune, saying they’d agreed with the protesters.)

    I grew up in Northeast Ohio, and like another poster said, May 4, 1970 is part of the collective memory of the area. Now and then I’d meet someone who had a connection to that day, such as a high school teacher whose neighbor was the young woman in the famous photo. But as a kid I often heard that KSU students had attacked the Guard, who then fired in a panic. Some people still believe that. It wasn’t until I was working on peace and human rights issues in Geneva in the 90s that I could see the shootings for what they really were: a horrific human rights violation.

    I think Gen X irony comes from our early memories of these events, coupled with coming of age under the threat of nuclear war. My friends and I, like teens in many countries in the early 80s, weren’t sure we’d live to see our adult years, and that if the bomb dropped, we wanted to die, not survive and live in some horrific nuclear winter landscape.

    Fortunately some of us reacted not with detachment but by organizing. Several years ago student anti-war organizers told me they wished they’d been in college in the 80s during those movements against apartheid, US involvement in El Salvador, etc., which was ironic, since Gen X college students had been accused of not caring the way Boomers had. I think movements sound bigger then they actually are to younger generations, but it’s always an uphill climb. Every generation has both opportunities and struggles of some kind. So I encourage today’s students to embrace the moment they’ve got.

    On a happier side note, my 80s memories of Kent are of punk bars and one truly great show in the KSU auditorium — The Ramones!

  • Kaylen B

    This event is something that has gone down in history, and has affected so many peoples lives. I was talking to a co-worker the other day about where I go to school, I told him I go to Kent State University and come to find out he went there many many years ago. We started discussing this event that happened and he had said that while he attended, there was a class that was required to take. The class was about the event and gave history on what happened. You had to learn all about this and why it happened. We do not have that class anymore and I was just curious as to why people don’t think we have it anymore?

  • steveannie

    That young woman was dubbed “the girl with the Delacroix face” by James A. Michener in his book “Kent State: What Happened and Why,” which was published a year after the event. According to Michener, she was not even a student at Kent State, but a 15-year-old runaway from Florida!