For those of us of a certain age, the events of fifty years ago today are vivid. I was ending my junior year in High School, worrying about the draft, worrying about heading off to college in a year, and worried about a gazillion other things. It was a trying time, although I suppose when you are 17 everything is trying. 

Then I saw the news. Suddenly everything revolved 90 degrees. It had actually happened, protesters had been killed at a college campus, apparently with no reason whatsoever. What little faith I had in the establishment started to fall away. I don't think life ever looked quite the same to me, and it really in some ways sucked the life out of everyone, pro-war and anti-war. Suddenly going off to college seemed like a whole different experience - would I be in as much danger there as I would be in Vietnam? 

Shortly thereafter came the song, which also stuck in our brains. Neil Young wrote it on a car trip with his bandmate David Crosby. Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young was falling apart and they'd just canceled the rest of their tour due to friction among the band members. But they managed to rally to record this song in two takes. It's still haunting, and a reminder of a musical world that is now lost to us except in recording. 

I ended up going off to Northwestern. During my freshman year there was a big protest on campus. It started off innocently enough as a protest about the increase in costs at the University, but then word spread through the crowd about the mining of Haiphong Harbor. Suddenly it was a big protest, blocking Sheridan Road on campus. I was standing around being somewhat bewildered by the whole event. Street Fighting Man (a whole different anthem) spilled out of speakers on campus. Then the police arrived, in full riot gear, escaping from a bunch of vans like so many demented clown cars. We all held our breath, not knowing what would happen next. After a few minutes of assessing the situation, the police seem to have come to the conclusion that this was a bunch of college kids not sure if they were protesting the war or enjoying standing in the middle of the road on a beautiful spring day. They did the only thing that was sensible, and broke out a volleyball net on the road and started a game. I think I was more relieved than I had ever been before or since. Things were odd for a week or two on campus as the protesting moved around and eventually was cleaned off of the road in the middle of the night by the National Guard. Peacefully. It was a volatile time, and I am still grateful for it and saddened by it. 

This morning I realized what day it was and fell into thought. We live in such a different time and I am not at all sure this massacre of students would be shocking any more. We see dead students in the news on a regular basis, and one of the few things I am finding good about our current situation is that by and large the mass shootings have stopped.  I am taking the day to remember those four students who died. And this song. What if you knew her and found her dead on the ground?

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Steve Hanson

Steve is a web designer and recently retired from running the hosting and development company Cruiskeen Consulting LLC. Cruiskeen Consulting LLC is the parent company of Wis.Community, and publication of this site continues after his retirement.

Steve is a member of LION Publishers and the Local Media Association, is active in Health Dunn Right, and is vice-president of the League of Women Voters of the greater Chippewa Valley

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