Where the Nine Wounded are Now
They call themselves “Blood Brothers”—the nine students injured on May 4, 1970—because they all shed their blood on Kent State’s campus. Yet, most of the wounded caught in the bullet spray of the Ohio National Guard didn’t even know each other beforehand.
Through their physical recovery, multiple court cases and 50 years of publicity, they formed lifelong friendships, bonded by their desire to never forget what happened that day and to honor the memory of the four students killed.
Alan Canfora, BA ’72, MLS ’80
For the past 50 years, Alan Canfora has remained the primary voice of May 4, never allowing the shootings and the four killed to be forgotten. “I knew Jeffrey Miller,” he says. “He was my friend.”
Canfora is director of the Akron Law Library; he has been active in politics in his
hometown of Barberton, Ohio, serving for 27 years as chairman of the Democratic Party. He also worked for the Summit County Board of Elections and Barberton Municipal Court.
But his largest role has always been as May 4 activist.
When he was shot in the wrist that day, Canfora was an active participant in the anti-war protest. As a 21-year-old junior, he can be seen in photos waving a black flag at the rally. He chose black because just a week earlier, he had attended the funeral of a childhood friend killed in Vietnam.
When the university stopped sponsoring the May 4 commemorations in 1975, he helped form the May 4th Task Force with Robert Stamps, Dean Kahler and current students. Their goal was to raise awareness about the May 4 shootings and its aftermath, specifically the lack of accountability and justice. “It’s been a long, arduous struggle, fighting for truth and justice,” says Canfora. “We have been very effective.”
Keeping May 4 alive has been a duty and a privilege, he says. In 2007, he uncovered digital audio in the May 4 archives at Yale University, which revealed a guardsman had shouted the verbal command to “fire” on the students.
Canfora says no one today can defend the actions of the Ohio National Guard, shooting unarmed students in broad daylight.
“The National Guard intentionally perpetrated a massacre at Kent State.”
He met his wife, Anastasia, at a May 4th Task Force meeting in 2009. They married a year later and welcomed a daughter in 2015 and a son in 2020.
Canfora’s love for Kent State still runs deep. “It’s the finest university in Ohio,” he says. “Kent State had one bad day in 1970 and it has remained a specter, unfortunately.”
He says he has one regret: “I wish our protests were stronger and more effective sooner. By 1970 there already were 30,000 US soldiers killed in Vietnam, as well as over a million Asian victims.”
John Cleary, BArch ’74
John Cleary, a 19-year-old freshman from Scotia, New York, came to Kent State to study architecture in the fall of 1969. He was shot in the chest by a guardsman’s bullet, while making his way to class during the student protest rally. A photo of Cleary lying injured on the ground made the cover of the May 15, 1970, edition of Life magazine, and became one of the iconic images of the day. (See page 48.)
Cleary spent the following summer recuperating at home and working to complete his classes. “There was no internet or email or texting, everything was sent by snail mail,” he says. Along with his assignments, professors sent many encouraging letters and honest critiques of his work, which helped him stay on track.
“I graduated on time,” Cleary says. “My goal was always to get back and complete my work on time and not let what happened to me change my goals or aspirations.”
Now retired, Cleary had a successful career as an architect in Pittsburgh. He avoided going back to the Kent Campus on May 4 for many years, but eventually began returning for May 4 anniversaries, particularly after his son attended Kent State.
Cleary says the commemorations are important. “Every year they talk about the four students who were slain, and it keeps their memory alive. It’s important to not let people forget what happened and to understand the significance.”
Thomas Grace, BA ’72
Thomas Grace, a 20-year-old sophomore history major from Syracuse, New York, hadn’t planned to attend the May 4, 1970 protest rally, even though he had been
a vocal opponent of the war. But that morning Grace reconsidered and felt he could not shirk his responsibilities.
A guardsman’s bullet hit his heel, taking off the right side of his left foot. He remembers sharing an ambulance with Sandra Scheuer, who was killed in the shootings.
His ankle was fused, but his foot still has a cavity that makes it difficult to stand for long periods of time. He credits his mother, Colette, who was a nurse, for pleading with the surgeon to not amputate Grace’s foot after a gangrenous infection set in.
“I have lived a fairly normal life, all things considered,” he says. “If not for my mother, I likely would have been strapping on a prosthesis every morning.”
After graduation from Kent State, he began to rethink his goal of teaching history. Instead, he earned a master’s degree in social work from the University of Buffalo in 1975, and he worked with the developmentally disabled for the state of New York for 30 years.
Later in his career, Grace still felt a call to history, and he returned to the University of Buffalo, earning his doctorate in history in 2003. He is an assistant professor of history at the State University of New York’s Erie Community College in Buffalo.
Grace resides outside of Buffalo with his wife, Peggy. He has a grown son and daughter from his first marriage and a grandson.
He returns to Kent State often for May 4 commemorations and is considered a May 4 historian and scholar, as well as a Civil War expert. His book, Kent State: Death and Dissent in the Long Sixties, was published by the University of Massachusetts Press in 2016.
“The fundamentals of that day have never changed,” he says. “The guard shot into a crowd of unarmed protesters and bystanders, killed four and wounded nine. It’s kind of unfathomable and certainly appalling.”
Grace has always had some misgivings about his place in history as one of the Kent State wounded. “I’ve often said my intention in going to Kent State was to study history, not become part of it.”
He praised Kent State’s administration over the past 25 years for owning up to its past. “Kent State, better than any other institution, has come to terms with its past, and I’ve been a direct witness to that,” Grace says. “It has contributed significantly to my coming to terms with the lethal actions committed by the Ohio National Guard in May 1970, and I salute [the university] for that.”
Dean Kahler, BS ’77
Dean Kahler, a first-quarter freshman on May 4, 1970, decided to attend that day’s student demonstration, not because he had strong feelings about the war in Vietnam, but because, as a farm boy from Stark County, he had never seen a protest rally and was curious.
The 20-year-old was standing near a tree, observing, when he felt a bullet pierce his spine. From his training as a Boy Scout, he knew almost instantly that he would never walk again. The injury left him paralyzed from the waist down and wheelchair-bound, which has made him the most recognizable of the May 4 wounded.
Kahler regularly takes part in May 4 commemorations and often conducts media interviews about the shootings and their legacy. He has been a steady presence representing the Kent State shooting victims.
His recovery was not without its challenges. The first get-well card Kahler opened in the hospital turned out to be hate mail from someone telling him he wished he were dead. Despite such treatment, Kahler says he chose to maintain an upbeat attitude. A lifetime member of the Church of the Brethren, he is a pacifist and against all war; he believes in promoting peace.
Kahler returned to the Kent Campus in fall 1970, earning a bachelor’s degree in education in 1977. “I consider Kent State my second home,” he says. “I like visiting as often as I can.”
He spent his life in public service, teaching school for 15 years, and working for the Ohio Industrial Commission, the Ohio Attorney General and the Ohio Secretary of State, as well as serving two terms as an elected Athens County Commissioner. He taught history and social studies and never shied from talking about the May 4 shootings in his classes.
Despite numerous physical setbacks, including having both feet amputated in 2009 due to vascular problems caused by years of living in a wheelchair, Kahler has maintained his positive attitude and says he is grateful to have survived and thrived. Years ago, he started running races in his wheelchair and took part in 60 races the year he turned 65.
He gives credit to his faith, his family and his circle of friends for lifelong support after the shootings, and says he was grateful for a long career of fulfilling employment.
After spending many years living in Southeast Ohio, Kahler returned to his hometown in Stark County in 2009. Now retired, Kahler remains an active community volunteer.
He was selected to serve as the speaker for Kent State’s spring commencement, but the ceremony was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. “I had hoped to talk about the importance of good citizenship, giving back to the community and sharing the benefits of a Kent State education.”
Joseph Lewis was an 18-year-old freshman from Massillon, Ohio, studying pre-professional social work, when he was shot while attending the student protest rally on May 4, 1970. Repeated images of the wounded soldiers on the evening news were enough to turn Lewis against the war in Vietnam.
He was standing near Taylor Hall when the guardsmen raised their rifles. He gestured toward them with his middle finger, and the shots soon followed.
Lewis remembers most of the aftermath: the high school girl who held his hand as he waited for help, the ride in the ambulance, the chaotic scene at the hospital. He was shot in the abdomen and a second time above the ankle, by a guardsman who later admitted in court that he purposely shot Lewis, even though he was already down.
“I was afraid I was going to die, but I wasn’t afraid of dying. I said the Act of Contrition and told God I was sorry for my sins,” he recalls. “And they hauled me away to an ambulance.”
Lewis returned home after three weeks in the hospital, and soon began to realize that much of the public faulted the students for the shootings. “The most important thing people need to realize is there was absolutely no need for those weapons to be loaded with live rounds, and absolutely no need for the guardsmen to fire them,” he says. “We didn’t do anything wrong.”
He returned to Kent State for two more years, but he quit school in 1972. That summer, he hitchhiked to Oregon, where he has resided ever since.
“I was dealing with what we now call PTSD, but then there was no care or counseling for that,” he says. Lewis also had survivor’s guilt, knowing that he was standing much closer to the guard than those who were killed.
In 1980, he was hired by the Scappoose, Oregon Public Works Department, and retired from there in 2013 as supervisor of the water treatment plant. He also served 16 years on the Scappoose Board of Education. Oregon, he says, was a good place to heal.
Lewis met his first wife, Galen Keller Lewis, when she was a Kent State professor working as a researcher for the ACLU during the victims’ civil lawsuit against the university. When they married, Keller brought three children into the marriage, and she and Lewis had one son together.
Keller Lewis died from cancer in 1991, and Lewis married his current wife, Lisa, in 1998. She brought three children into the marriage, giving Lewis a total of seven children, and, now, 14 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
“I don’t deny my experience at Kent State. But I’m a husband and father and grandfather, and that’s the most important part of my life. It’s the best part of life.”
Donald Scott Mackenzie, BBA ’71
Donald Scott Mackenzie transferred to Kent State in the fall of 1968 after attending a small college in Iowa for two years. He thought Kent State would be less isolated, offer a more active campus and be closer to his home in Richboro, Pennsylvania.
On May 4, 1970, he had finished a class in Franklin Hall and was walking toward his apartment next to Harbourt Hall when the shooting began.
“I was at the far end of the parking lot, observing what was going on. I turned and ran the opposite way. I remember someone saying, ‘Don’t run, they’re only shooting blanks,’” Mackenzie recalls. A second later, a steel-jacketed bullet hit the back of his neck, missing his spine by about half an inch, and exiting out the middle of his left cheek.
The 22-year-old’s jaw was shattered and wired shut for several months while he recuperated over the summer. He returned to Kent that fall and completed courses in business with an emphasis on economics and minor in political science.
After a year spent skiing in Colorado and traveling in Europe after graduation, Mackenzie decided to pursue furniture making, design and fine woodworking. He went back to school in Pennsylvania, earned a degree in industrial arts, and taught high school shop classes for a few years, before moving to Colorado in 1977. He earned master’s and doctorate degrees in industrial design at Colorado State University.
For a time, he had a custom furniture business before giving it up to teach fulltime at Montana State University-Northern and later Dakota State University, where he taught design and digital arts and design. He retired two years ago, and he and his wife Cheryl moved back to Colorado. Married since 1983, the couple have two grown children.
Mackenzie has kept his involvement in May 4 mostly private, although he has returned for May 4 anniversaries. The injury caused permanent nerve damage to his face—a constant and sometimes painful reminder of the shooting.
“I didn’t think the war made any sense, but I wouldn’t classify myself as an activist,” he says. “I’ve always liked the idea of trying to find as much common ground as possible and not getting too extreme, too fixated on one side. All reasonable opinions need to be listened to and debated.”
James Russell, BFA ’70, died June 23, 2007, from a heart attack at his home in Deer Island, Oregon, where he had moved after graduating. Russell was born in New Jersey, and grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was 23 and a senior advertising major when he was shot in the thigh and forehead on May 4, 1970. He worked for the city of Beaverton, Oregon, and as a freelance photographer.
Fellow wounded student Joseph Lewis, who also lives in Oregon, maintained a long and close friendship with Russell. The two gave talks about May 4 to local high school and college students, which, Lewis says, helped them heal. “Jim had a very positive attitude,” says Lewis. “He always said he had five good years at Kent State and one bad day.”
Russell was survived by his wife, Nelda Pelosi, and their daughter, Becka.
Robert Stamps, BA ’72, MA ’76, MA ’99, died June 11, 2008, in Florida. He had neurologic Lyme disease and was suffering from pneumonia. Stamps was 19 and a sophomore studying Spanish and sociology when he was shot in the lower back on May 4, 1970. A Cleveland native, he was a parole officer and addictions counselor. A published author, Stamps also had been an adjunct professor, spoke fluent Castilian Spanish and was an extensive traveler.
“Robbie, as his friends called him, remained a staunch supporter of the university,” says Paula Slimak, BA ’68, MA ’71, who was executive director of university communications during the 25th anniversary commemoration. “During the 25th anniversary of the shootings, he was one of the primary contacts available to reporters, anchoring a media speakers bureau, determined to speak the truth about May 4.”
Stamps was survived by his wife, Teresa Sumrall.
Douglas Wrentmore was a 20-year-old sophomore from Northfield, Ohio, studying psychology, when he was wounded in the right knee. He has rarely given interviews about May 4, and he declined to be interviewed for this story. He resides with his wife in southern Ohio.