The Thinker: Rich Galen


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Kent State

Rich Galen

Monday June 1, 2020

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  • Let me tell you a story.

  • At the end of my sophomore year at Marietta College (January 1966), I was asked to leave. When I say "asked" I mean I was thrown out for "lack of progress in earning a degree."

  • There were several, maybe three, "Fs" on whatever the college equivalent of a Report Card is, and I headed back east to my parents' home in New Jersey.

  • I had just turned 20.

  • The Vietnam war was building quickly and at 5'7" and about 135 lbs, I was a prime steak hanging in the butcher shop window of the U.S. Armed Forces.

  • Sure enough I got a notice from my draft board to report for my pre-induction physical which, inasmuch as I was breathing, I passed.

  • I didn't know about the bone spur dodge so I hustled up to the New Jersey Army National Guard unit to which my older brother was attached and put my name on the unit's waiting list.

  • Pending that, I thought long and hard about how to survive the war.

  • I determined that the safest place to be was in the Air Force in a job that didn't include getting into airplanes and flying over or even near enemy territory.


    I am not bragging about this. As years went by I suffered buyer's remorse for missing duty in - until this virus came along - the seminal event in my generation.

    I wrote many times from Iraq that I felt I was making a partial repayment on a 35-year-old debt that I owed my country.


  • I took every qualifying test they had to offer and qualified for any job that didn't require a college degree.

  • Except one.

  • I didn't qualify for navigator because I have no spatial sense. I don't know my left from my right, or east from west, and the only way I can read a map is to turn it in the direction I'm going.

  • OK. Navigator meant going into an airplane which I had already disqualified.

  • I asked what job had the longest training period. "Translator in either Russian or Chinese," the recruiting sergeant replied after much licking of thumbs and turning of pages in thick manuals. "Three years."

  • And the Air Force's East Coast translator school was at Syracuse University.

  • B.I.N.G.O.

  • Just days before I was due to be sworn into the Air Force, the National Guard unit called and said my name was at the top of the list and did I want to

  • He never finished the sentence before I was standing in front of him begging to take the oath.

  • After two years in the NJ Guard, I decided to go back to school and reapplied to Marietta. I was accepted but I had this reserve obligation thing.

  • I did all the paperwork and on 30 January, 1969 I reported for duty at the Armory on Front Street in Marietta, Ohio 45750

  • I had been trained as a "Unit Armorer" meaning I could fix any gun from a .38 (used by the MPs) to a .50 caliber machine gun. The Ohio Guard unit didn't need one of those, so I became the Training NCO. Except I wasn't a non-commissioned officer, so I named myself the Training Almost NCO.

  • Came the anti-war demonstrations.

  • My unit was a long way from Kent State. We got called to to Ohio State University in Columbus to put down misbehavior, and to Ohio University in Athens - about 40 miles away from Marietta. But, for whatever reason, we weren't in Kent, Ohio on May 4, 1970.

  • At this time the standard weapon for Ohio National Guard members was an M-14 rifle which fired a 7.62 mm "NATO" round. It is a big bullet.

  • We didn't have bean bags, or rubber bullets. Our riot training was a couple of hours of what we called "Smokin', Jokin' and Hanging Around" on the drill floor pretending to move an invisible group of people out the back door.

  • Thirteen people were shot that day at Kent State University; four were killed.

  • They were killed by kids just like me probably tired, underpaid, scared of being overrun by hundreds or maybe thousands of students. The only weapon they had was an M-14 that fired a very lethal 7.62 mm round.

  • After that the training became more focused, and I took my job much more seriously. We were issed non-lethal ammunition and learned the theories of riot control


    One of the theories was to leave the demonstrators an easily identifiable exit route so they knew they could get out of trouble and not panic into an escalating situation.

    I don't know if that's still in the doctrine but it should be.


  • Marietta College was not a hotbed of anti-war activity. Someone burned down the bookstore, but I covered it as the news director for the local radio station, WMOA, not as E-4 Galen, Richard A., NG21801329.

  • That day in May has stuck with me. A group of kids under trained, over armed, kids like me who panicked, fired into a crowd and killed four students probably the same age.

  • I don't know what the point of all this is, except to say that there but for the Grace of God it might have been me - on either side of the firing line.

  • I'll bet a lot of cops. State Police and National Guard Members around the nation, good men and women, trying not to get hurt, and trying not to get into a situation where they have to hurt a civilian; I'll bet they are thinking the same thing.

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: A link to the Wikipedia page for the Kent State shootings.

  • The Mullfoto is the SpaceX astronauts just before launch on Saturday.

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