Tuesday, May 4, 2010

I knew a girl who was almost a lady
She had a way with all the men in her life
Every inch of her blossomed in beauty
And she was born on the fourth of July
Well she lived in an aluminum house trailer
And she worked in a juke box saloon
And she spent all the money I give her
Just to see the old man in the moon

On May fourth, 1970, Jeffery Glenn Miller, 20, Allison B. Krause, 19, William Knox Schroeder, 19 and Sandra Lee Scheuer, 20 died on a campus mall in a college in Ohio.

There were protests on campus to demonstrate against Richard Nixon's illegal expansion of the war in Viet Nam into Cambodia. The National Guard were called out. Sometime during the protest the Guard opened fire, killing the four students and wounding nine others. Sandra was walking to class and was over 130 yards from the Guardsmen.

On May fifth I was a seventeen year old high school senior and I walked out of my American Social Problems class in disgust when the teacher would not deviate from his planned lecture of the Cold War to discuss what had happened at Kent. My departure was rather vocal, if I remember correctly, and loud enough to draw the attention of teachers from adjoining class rooms. I alternately lambasted the teacher, a droll cardboard caricature of a man who had a nervous habit of rolling chalk in his hands, and invited other students to walk out with me.

I used to sleep at the foot of Old Glory
And awake in the dawn's early light
But much to my surprise
When I opened my eyes
I was a victim of the great compromise

Well, this was a small town in Western Wisconsin in a county where the cows undoubtedly out numbered the humans. I mention this only to over as explanation why, in 1970, no one else joined me. I left through the back door and crossed the parking lot to park my ass on the steps leading up to the practice athletic field. Maybe there were eyes watching me from the windows. I don't know and really didn't care.

Well we'd go out on Saturday evenings
To the drive-in on Route 41
And it was there that I first suspected
That she was doin' what she'd already done
She said "Johnny won't you get me some popcorn"
And she knew I had to walk pretty far
And as soon as I passed through the moonlight
hopped into a foreign sports car

Well you know I could have beat up that fellow
But it was her that had hopped into his car
Many times I'd fought to protect her
But this time she was goin' too far

In about fifteen minutes the Vice-Principal, a wiry athletic Italian man with the vocal range of a Marine Drill Sargent and the personality of a wolverine, came striding across the lot toward me. Emile knew me. He was also an assistant football coach. I think I was crying when he sat down next to me. He said nothing. I didn't look at him.

Some time, hours it seemed then, he said, "You graduate in four weeks." It seemed like a growl of thunder, only whispered.

"Go home, today, Jim. Come back tomorrow," and he got up and walked back across the parking lot and into the school. He didn't look back.

Now some folks they call me a coward
'Cause I left her at the drive-in that night
But I'd druther have names thrown at me
Than to fight for a thing that ain't right

Now she writes all the fellows love letters
Saying "Greetings, come and see me real soon"
And they go and line up in the barroom
And spend the night in that sick woman's room
But sometimes I get awful lonesome
And I wish she was my girl instead
But she won't let me live with her
And she makes me live in my head

I graduated in four weeks and a year and a half later I was walking around in socks and underwear at an Army induction center in Milwaukee taking my Draft physical. I did not serve and did not go to Viet Nam. But that is a different story.

I still love America passionately but as with all loves, things happen that change the love but not the fundamental equation.

I used to sleep at the foot of Old Glory
And awake in the dawn's early light
But much to my surprise
When I opened my eyes
I was a victim of the great compromise

Auf Wiedersehen, Sweetheart.

lyrics- John Prine


Randal Graves said...

Well that's serendipitous. I've got the shuffle going on in the digital music box and a famous Sabbath track about blowing stuff up came on when I clicked here.

Liberality said...

Why were these young men trained to kill Americans on a college campus is what I want to know?

Sherry Peyton said...

DAmmit Jimmy, just when I think I know a person, you go and write this! Hat's off to you my friend...just a great piece of writing.

Distributorcap said...

2 of the 4 were just walking - this was a real turning point in america.

great piece. i remember we DID talk about it -- and i was in 7th grade

susan said...

I was writing a high school history exam when Kennedy was shot and wondered why the teachers were whispering and crying. I was home watching Robert's speech and saw him shot. I remember King's murder and Malcolm X. My son was born two weeks after Kent State. Every one of these events diminished American life.

okjimm said...

Thanks... for all the nice words. Kent changed forever how I think... more than any other event in my life...(well... accept fatherhood. but that is cataclysmic in a different sense)

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