This is a picture essay I shot for The Athens Messenger to run on November 11, 1968. You can click on the photos to make them larger.
The caption reads, Saturday, Glouster residents paused to honor Marine Cpl. Donald A. Campbell who was awarded the Silver Star for valor in Vietnam, where he died. Today, Veterans Day, the nation pauses to honor those men who fought in all her wars.
Ceremonies were way too common
My first assignment for The Athens Messenger on Sept. 17, 1969, was a routine grip-n-grin photo of a local serviceman being awarded a bunch of medals for his service in Vietnam.
That afternoon, I went back to City Hall to watch the mayor award the Bronze Star and Purple Heart to the parents of a boy who didn’t come back. As I looked at their expressions, I wondered how much they had aged since they received that knock on their door and looked out to see a somber-faced soldier on their stoop.
The lonely ride back home with a box of medals
The image I’ve never been able to get out of my mind is the one of them walking out to their car. On their ride home, they’re going to have a box of medals sitting where their son should have been.
It was a lot easier photographing soldiers than the parents, wives and siblings left behind.
When I’m not thinking about Cape, I hang out on the You Know You’re from Athens, Ohio, If… Facebook page. Folks there post memories of things I shot working for The Athens Messenger in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Someone brought up the old Mill Street Bridge this week.
This is a photo I took of the bridge the day it was destroyed on August 25, 1970, because the river was being relocated as part of a flood control project.
The bridge went splash close to deadline, so I rushed this photo in, only to be told, “Oh, I have that dummied in as a vertical. It’s too late to change, so go back and find a vertical.”
I told the editor to let me have his seat. I laid out the front page to give myself a nice horizontal ride, rewrote a couple of headlines, and said, “This’ll work.” That’s when I appreciated all the pages Missourian editor John Blue let me lay out and the hundreds of headlines I had written.
The biggest lemon in the world
The vehicle on the left is my 1969 VW Squareback, the biggest lemon ever to be squeezed out of Germany. I loved the car, but it loved the repair shop more. I ended up selling it with the engine in a cardboard box.
Wife Lila and I lived in a basement apartment a few blocks from the bridge and the river. The landlord showed us a big valve they’d have to close if the river got high; otherwise, we were going to find ourselves wading in sewage.
Hocking River gauge
The little square concrete structure on the far left is the river gauge. It was mentioned in a 1916 Water-Supply Paper talking about the Hocking River Basin. It was located “at a single span highway bridge at Mill Street, about three-fourths mile from business district of Athens, Athens County.” The left bank, it said, overflows at gage (their spelling) height 17 feet and the water passes around the bridge. The study noted there were ruins of an old mill dam 300 feet downstream.
Bridge was cut apart
The horizontal members of the bridge were cut, leaving only the sides and bed behind. I don’t recall what actually brought the bridge down. The crane has been moved well back, and I don’t see the guy with the cutting torch in the final photos.
I’m pretty sure they didn’t use dynamite, like Dad did with a bridge over the Black River in Wayne county, Missouri. In his case, he had to drop the bridge straight down to keep it from damaging the new bridge next to it on one side and a bunch of phone lines on the other. The blast part went great, but cutting it apart like these guys are doing went not so well. You can see a video of it here.
Bridge demo gallery
Here’s a collection of photos of the bridge’s final moments. Click on any photo to make it larger, then use your arrow keys to move through the images.
I suspect one or two of my readers will grouse again this year, “Why are you bringing up Kent State? It’s ancient history.”
Dean Kahler has a good answer for that: “History will hurt you if you don’t learn about it. It’s important that you learn about it, and it’s important that you don’t forget about it so you don’t repeat it.”
Dean was one of nine students injured by National Guard gunfire on May 4, 1970, at Kent State University in Ohio. He was a first-quarter freshman, a farm boy from near Canton who was a conscientious objector because of his religion. He had read about demonstrations in the newspapers and national news magazines. “As a farm boy, you don’t get a chance to go to protests,” he said, ” because the cows have to be milked.”
Classes were supposed to be held as normal on May 4, so Dean decided to drive onto his campus to see what was going on. He was in the parking lot behind him in this photo, 300 feet away from the closest National Guardsman, when he saw them turn “with their deliberate motion.”
When he saw them turn, “I knew they were shooting.” He dropped to the ground because there was nowhere to run to and no cover for him.
Like when you pith a frog
[Watch the video to hear Dean tell about the shooting in his own words.]
“I knew I had been shot because it felt like a bee sting. I knew immediately because my legs got real tight, then they relaxed just like in zoology class when you pith a frog,” he said. He never walked again, but he has turned into a highly competitive wheelchair athlete.
After the shooting stopped, he called out to see if there were any Boy Scouts around who could turn him over. “The only thought that came into my head was if I was turned over, would I bleed more internally than externally? I thought (shrugs shoulders) there’s a 50 / 50 chance that you’re going to die one way or the other. I knew I might die. I had a really good chance of dying, so I wanted to see the sky, the sun, leaves, peoples faces. I didn’t want to be eating grass when I died.”
Dean and my old publisher
I was honored that Dean drove down from the Canton area for the opening of the Athens County Historical Society’s exhibit The Sky Has Fallen that contained scores of my photos. Dean, who was a well-regarded Athens county commissioner for eight years, is talking with Kenner Bush, my old publisher at The Athens Messenger.
Curator Jessica and I met Dean when we went up to the Kent State May 4 Visitors Center to talk about how the historical society’s museum could work with the visitor center on future exhibits about the protest era. I thought he was just a helpful volunteer until it became obvious that he had more than book knowledge about what happened that day.
The man who prevented a massacre
The Center had one of the most powerful videos I’ve ever seen anywhere. When they played the sound of the gunfire, I lost it. That was followed by a clip of professor who probably prevented a massacre. He stood between the guard and the students and begged the students to sit down. When the situation somewhat stabilized, the students took off in different directions “so that someone would be alive to tell the story.”
So, how long am I going to ride this story. Probably every May 4, just like my old chief photographer, John J. Lopinot will send me a message that just says, “Never Forget.”
Back in 2012, I did a piece titled Turtles, Frogs, Dogs and Desperation where I explained how I come up with story ideas. (The key word was “desperation.) It’s worth a visit, even if I say so myself.
In it, I introduced Mrs. Nellie Vess, one of my favorite subjects. You can click on the photos to make them larger.
Rhonda and Patty Sue
It told the story of how an elderly woman found that puppy Patty Sue attracted the neighborhood kids like Rhonda Kay Judson, 5. The headline of my 1968 Athens Messenger Picture Page was Lonely No More.
‘Now I have lots of company,” Mrs. Vess told me.
Fast-forward to 2015
I love getting comments, but today’s mail brought one from Sheila Knott that was super-special:
“This is my sister and our neighbor years ago!!! It was such a joy to see this. I knew Mrs Vess very well and she was a wonderful woman. I was born a year and 5 days after these pics were takin! Thank you so much for sharing and I’ll have to show my sister (Rhonda) the second one, I don’t believe she has ever seen it!”
Speaking of desperation
I mentioned over the holidays that I had some stuff that I needed to get done and that I might slack off for a week. As it turned out, I produced rerun pages during that period that took almost as much time as if I had come up with fresh content.
My van buying / selling experience put me even further behind.
On top of that, I may have a chance to pick up some freelance work that may actually mean that Wife Lila and I won’t have to fight Bleeping Cat for dinner. (We haven’t bothered to name most of our feline parade over the years. Oh, yes, there is an official name on file with the vet, but we usually just call them “Brown Cat, Big Cat, Little Cat, Orange Cat or, in the case of the current resident, “Bleeping Cat.”)
So, don’t be surprised if I come up missing from time to time or all that gets posted is a photo gallery of what I happen to be editing at the time.
Of course, while I’m gone, don’t forget to click on the tiny yellow DONATE button at the top of the page to keep Phoebe the Bleeping Cat fed.