Mary Ann Vecchio

[published May 4, 2010 in the Circleville Herald]

A decade ago, during the most difficult time of loss, sadness and questioning I have ever experienced, I came home to behold my own Moses-like burning bush moment of peace. Our forsythia was in full bloom, affirming most clearly with glowing yellowness that life was here, that it is often  good, that even on fouler days with frost in the air and  snow piling up about the roots, that life itself would flow through its’ branches and burst into color and life.  I remain unconvinced, as were Job and Qoheleth, seeing that evil often triumphs and the good undeservedly suffer injustice.

This May 4th I shall again be at the site of the Kent State 1970 shootings. I was arrested there in 1977 with 192 others attempting unsuccessfully to stop Kent State's construction of a large gym on significant portions of Blanket Hill. I shall march around campus with hundreds of others holding candles in memory of Allison Krause, Jeffery Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder. Later, I shall hold a candle where Sandra Scheuer died, 110 yards from the Guardsmans’ M-1 rifle that killed her. I met Sandy’s parents that summer we were arrested, my first personal connection with the sadness of May 4th, 1970. With that candle I hold back the darkness of the Vietnam War, of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, the darkness of war profiteers and the darkness of politicians who gain from preaching fear and war.

Late in the evening of May 3rd after last year’s candlelight march, while sitting on the steps leading from Taylor Hall to the Prentice parking lot, I was blessed to have a long conversation with Mary Ann Vecchio. This was another forsythia moment. Mary Ann, you may recall, is the young woman wailing in grief over the body of Jeffrey Miller in John Filo’s Pulitzer prize winning photo. Jeff was 20, he had told his mother the morning of May 4th that he felt he must do the right thing and attend the antiwar rally at noon. Jeff was 90 yards away, downhill, from the guard, he was of no threat to them. None of the 4 students killed or 13 wounded were of any possible danger to the Guard.

Mary Ann spoke of the difficult years after May 4th.  Her dealing with the memories of death and gunfire was worsened by the vilification she received in the press. Mary Ann and the students on Blanket Hill were called “bums” by Richard Nixon. Governor Rhodes said the students were “the worst type of people in America” and that he would use “every weapon possible to eradicate the problem.” The public felt even more students should have been shot. Mary Ann is now a registered respiratory therapist in Florida. Mary Ann spoke of how she feels that she is on the side of life and hope working with her patients.  I tell her after my arrest here in 1977 I began working as an EMT, that I now work in emergency medicine, one of the few places in the U.S. where everyone is cared for equally. Talking only yards from the spot where Mary Ann grieved over Jeffrey, we both felt that out of the darkness of the Vietnam War and May 4th that we had found just and enduring values.

Mary Ann spoke from the podium the next day wishing peace to everyone hurt by the tragedy of May 4th, as well as everyone hurt by the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars. I find it difficult to be at peace. Since May 4th 1970 the U.S. has continued an aggressive and militaristic world posture. Reagan fanned the flames of cruel right wing wars against the peasantry of Nicaragua and El Salvador. We have wasted thousands of our troops’ lives, perhaps a million Iraqi and Afghani lives, along with trillions of dollars we could have spent on health care and education. Domestically, we have so villainized government and idolized unregulated profit that 29 miners died in the Upper Big Branch mine disaster. They died of criminal negligence and corporate arrogance. Meanwhile, Republicans in the Senate stop attempts to rein in Wall Street gamblers that don’t feel the pain they inflicted on Main Street. 

Mary Ann Vecchio’s story of pain, suffering and peace, Jeffrey Miller’s story, the story of the Upper Big Branch miners, your story, is honored every time we work for peace and justice for everyone, everywhere.


---- Brad Cotton 

      Kent State Alumnus