I finally got around to talking with Raymond Srp, the captain of Troop G of the 107th Armored Cavalry, the National Guard unit which did most of the firing at Kent State. When I asked him what he thought about Stuart Allen's finding that the Guardsmen were ordered to fire, Srp still maintained that there never was such an order and the Guard only communicated with hand signals because of all the noise at the time of the shooting.
As Srp tells it, when the shooting broke out, he had his back to his men because he was marching ahead of them trying to see what lie ahead beyond the crest of Blanket Hill. (There was nothing blocking the Guards' retreat.) His story was that the shooting was the result of the rock throwing and that his sergeant, Myron Pryor, who was accused by Peter Davies of starting the shooting, never fired his weapon, even though he certainly appeared to be caught in the act in the famous John Darnell photograph. Srp told me that he personally checked Pryor's gun after the shootings and determined it had not been fired. The reason why, Srp claimed, was that Pryor's hand was swollen from a previous incident in which Pryor tried to demonstrate to the other soldeirs in the unit how to correctly fire a tear gas cannister. As Srp tells it, Pryor somehow screwed up and had the tear gas cannister accidentally recoil onto his hand. That, Srp claimed, made Pryor's hand swell and made it impossible for Pryor to cock his .45. Since I a not an expert on weaponry and tear gas, I could not explore that issue any further.
HISTORICAL NOTE: Srp was originally quoted in the Justice Department's summary of the FBI report as saying the Guardsmen's lives were not in danger and that it was not a shooting situation. However, after his lawyers coached him, he changed his testimony at the wrongful death and injury trial to say that the situation was becoming more dangerous.
While Srp blamed the protestors, the President's Commission on Campus Unrest concluded the killings on May 4, 1970 were "unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable."
This blog is written by William A. Gordon, a Kent State alumnus and the author of "Four Dead in Ohio" and three other books. It offers commentary on the still unfolding developments in the Kent State shooting case.