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'An expression well worth preserving'

Editor's note: On May 4, 1970, Ohio National Guardsmen shot 13 unarmed Kent State University students who were participants and bystanders at a campus protest against the U.S. invasion of Cambodia during the Vietnam War. Four of those students died. In response, students at what was then Wisconsin State University-Eau Claire engaged in a peaceful protest, and a Kent State memorial was created on campus. That memorial came down in 2011 due to the construction of the new Davies Student Center and campus mall. At 11:24 a.m. May 4, 2015, the UW-Eau Claire campus community honored the events of May 1970 with the dedication of a new Kent State Memorial on the lawn at the northwest corner of Phillips Science Hall. Read more about the dedication event and view the archived video of the dedication and lecture that followed. Below are thoughts from a UW-Eau Claire faculty member who has a personal connection to the 1970 events at Kent State and the dedication of the new memorial at UW-Eau Claire.

By Dr. Warren Gallagher
Professor and Chair,
UW-Eau Claire Department of Chemistry

I have a personal connection to the events that unfolded at Kent State University 45 years ago and culminated in the death of four students and the serious injury of nine others on May 4, 1970. I was a senior that spring at Kent State University High School and was on campus that day. I heard the volley of shots that led to all those deaths and injuries and witnessed chaos that ensued.

Nineteen years later, in the spring of 1989, I arrived at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire to join the faculty of the chemistry department. While out for a walk one day that spring, I stumbled upon the four crab apple trees in bloom and the plaque that commemorated them to the four students who died at Kent State. I remember how struck I was by the memorial. While conceptually simple, it was powerful in its expression, with four trees, asymmetrically arranged to be living reminders of the four students who were needlessly gunned down. The fact that the trees would come into bloom near the anniversary date each year only added to the strength of this expression. In addition, the spontaneity with which the memorial was created, with the trees being planted only four days after the shootings, further elevated the sentiment they expressed, not only for the disastrous turn of events that took place at Kent State that spring in 1970, but more importantly for the far different outcome that unfolded on the campus of the Wisconsin State University-Eau Claire. This says something about our institution and is an expression well worth preserving.