Dean Kahler, Shot at Kent State


Kent State 08-25-2015I 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

Kenner Bush - Dean Kahler at Sky Has Fallen exhibit opening 04-17-2015I 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.”

16 Replies to “Dean Kahler, Shot at Kent State”

  1. Thank you for the remembrance. I was a senior in high school at that time. The Vietnam war was a big issue in my life then, with friends who were affected by the draft.

  2. We’ve been here before on this date. Possibly the most impactful period of my life – teaching on a university campus, barely older than my students – student strikes – firebomb threats – National Guard on campus – closing the university for a breathing period – restarting an academic term with just several weeks left. I learned so much about my colleagues and my students and local/university law enforcement – and myself. I wondered then how some people could think and feel the way they seemed to. I’m having many of the same feelings again (times ten). Thanks, Kenny…Never Forget…Carry on my wayward son…

  3. Thank you for the remembrance. Our media today are too quick to dismiss stories like this after a day or two. Out of sight out of mind.

    I remember the day vividly and it should be an integral part of our history.

  4. I saw the information in the news yesterday, had to search and find my copy of CSNY “Ohio” and give it listen.

    Thanks Ken.

  5. I was there that fateful day as a freshman. I was sitting under a tree in the commons when I heard the gunfire. I will never forget that sound and what happened after. Turns out that 5 years later I married Dean’s cousin and never knew it. Small world with interesting connections. I met Dean years later when he was a substitute teacher at McKinley HS where I worked. We will never forget, Dean.

  6. I met Dean Kahler briefly at one of the May 4, observances. I too saw the shootings being a graduating senior that quarter. I have gone to the commemorations almost every year for the past forty five years and have had that time to clear away all the fog to see what really happened. I have spoken about it and have written about all to no avail. So below are my conclusions.
    First, I saw the guard turn and fire M-1 assault rifles in UNISON capable of penetrating four students with a single round. They were choreographed by a command to fire. The closest student was over a football field away and unarmed so no possibility for a self defense argument. Because the guard fired all at once there is no self defense strategy do to temporary insanity. So plain and simple it was MURDER.
    Second, the responsibility for this lies directly at the feet of two giant egos President Nixon and Governor Rhodes who’s actions were radiated by the doctrine of my way or else, period. As a result National Guardsmen were put in an untenable position of shoot or Leavenworth.
    Third, I grew up being told that eye witnesses were incontrovertible evidence: the shootings were seen by thousands and the film viewed by millions and yet no indictments, and therefore no responsibility. The big question here is HOW did the Government pull this off? My answer is now we have a people of the government, for the government and by the government. The real tragedy was not only was Dean paralyzed but so was the Constitution as the government found out how apathetic the American people really are. Ben Franklin said it best “those who are willing to sacrifice their freedoms for security deserve neither”.
    Finally, I saw and read the response of many Americans saying nine wounded four dead—should have shot them all they said. Now that really, really scares me. No, it terrifies me.

  7. Dean is a fabulous human being and a blessing to all who have been lucky enough to meet him!

  8. Michael Eisenhauer you knew that something like this was going to happen sooner or later. It was a tragedy, I am
    deeply saddened. It did not take you long to label the M-1 rifle as an assault weapon. I thought sure that was only reserved for the Ar-15 or Ak-47.I do not think either President Nixon or Gov. Rhodes planned for this to happen. It just did. I pray to God it never occurs again.

  9. I met Dean in 1971 precisely because he became paralyzed that day. He came to Cleveland to train with our wheelchair track and field team, the Cleveland Comets. I was one of the field coaches and was amazed at how quickly he had become rehabilitated and could return to sports. With today’s equipment and medical advances it is common, but back then it was incredible. I was finishing PT school at Case Western Reserve, where I had marched in protest of the May 4th shootings. It really came home when I met Dean. He taught me more than I taught him.

  10. I was only 9 when it happened, and all I thought was how wrong the shooters were. The ‘claim’ that they were fired upon was never proven. These college kids were forced to be victimized, used as targets with nothing but pens/pencils on them, from hundreds of yards away. If nothing else, each Guardsman should have been sent to Vietnam as a result.

  11. DEAN!
    I was a junior at Northwestern HS, Wayne Co, Ohio.
    the day of the shooting. My teachers were very biased! What is new for that day & now, eh?
    I assisted with the paralyzed KSU students there in
    1974 to Frank Cergol; I got to know you for that 1/4.
    Thank-YOU for ALL you have done, you GREAT teacher!~!
    I became a Special Education teacher with the extremely physically handicapped. Yes, my degree is from the GREAT KSU, also.

    JIM Appleman

  12. I raised my children to be pacifists and also to fight oppression where they find it. I never understood your forgiveness of the shooters until my daughter was murdered, and two years later realized if I didn’t forgive her murderer, i would carry the rage all my life. Forgiving him setbme free.

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