Jeffrey Miller

Shot & Killed May 4, 1970

photo The following are two letters written by Jeffrey Miller killed at Kent State on May 4, 1970 to his Grandmother who had just lost her husband during the spring of 1967. March 3, 1967

Dear Nana,

There were so many things I wanted to say to you in person when you were still up here, but I didn't want to risk upsetting everyone. I don't suppose its really necessary since I realize how much you both loved me, as I'm sure you have no doubt how much I love you.

I know how tough it will be for you to live without Gramps, and there will be times when you'll be very lonely, but don't ever start getting the feeling that you're alone. Aside form the scores of friends you have, you have a family that loves you with all our heart, especially after the brave way you acted when you were up here.

Gramps was probably the greatest, most wonderful man I'll ever know. We often discussed how lucky we were to have such a cool grandfather who knew so grandfather who knew so much about everything. We could talk to him as if he were a friend, and we could be perfectly honest, because we knew he was always honest with us. We're going to miss him very badly, more so than words can describe. It was just a few days ago that it finally began to hit me. Sometimes I cry when I think of him, but more of the time I can smile, because he was always in a good mood and he had a way of getting everyone around him in the same mood. An I know he wouldn't want me to cry about him.

How are you getting along down there? Are you taking care of yourself? we're all fine here. We're all looking forward to seeing you in May. I don't know if you still want to come home on the 1st or what, but you know what you're doing, and I'm sure you'll know when its best to leave Miami. I'll try to write as often as possible-you know how I am when it comes to writing-and I hope to be able to write one every week or two.

So write often, and please, don't forget, you've still got a lot to live for, and you've got a long way to go. I know you'll be able to handle it.

Love and xxxx

March 30, 1967

Dear Nana,

I'm glad to hear that you're getting out of the apartment and going places. I know how tough it must be when you're with people, since your spirits are probably going up and down all the time, but its very important that you remain close with all your friends and not shut yourself up.

It's been just over the post few days that I've really started to miss Gramps. I was used to not seeing him for a few months at a time, but mow I'm just starting to realize that I'll never see him again and never speak to him again. It must be so hard for you. I with there was more I could do for you. I'd like so much to be able to come down to Miami and be with you next week when I'm off from school. If I had the money, I'd do it. I'm dying to see you. I'd like to be to do anything I could to make you happy, to brighten your life now that you're going through such a sad period, but there's really not too much I can do. I hope that you can find some comfort in knowing that I love you more than anything in the world, and I'd do anything for you. I know you don't want to feel like you're being a burden, but believe me, I don't think I could ever think of you in that light; not anyone who's brought so much joy and happiness into my life.

I think you'll be happy to hear that Russ is planning to spend his summer working in Switzerland. He'll be seeing a lot of Europe. It means we won't be seeing him until September (except for a few days in June), but I think its a fantastic opportunity for him to see the world, as he'll be settling down in a few years and he may not be able to get away from his work to travel that much. I really envy him; I with I could be going. The only thing that bothers me is the thought I just had that he may have to miss my graduation. But that will all be worked out later. Russ is doing all right, he'll probably be very successful in his line of work, whatever it may be. I just hope we can both be as successful as Gramps at being human beings. I'll always remember him for having many of the qualities that I hope I will possess in my lifetime.

I hate to think that my letters get you very upset, but I can only write what I truly feel deep inside, and I think that's what you want to hear. So I'll keep writing, and you write to me whenever you feel like it because I love hearing from you. I can't wait to see you again; it'll be just a few more weeks. So, until then . . . .

Love and xxx

The following statement is by Elaine Holstein, the mother of Jeffrey Miller.

The turning point in my life can be pinpointed to a specific second. One second out of a thirteen second fusillade when the Ohio National Guard spun in their tracks at the crest of a hill on a lovely, warm May day and, unbelievably, shot at random into a crowd of protesting students. The rifle bullet that entered Jeff's mouth and exited at the base of his skull changed my life as surely as it ended his.

Before May 4, 1970, I was quite apolitical. I would have described myself as a Liberal, had always voted for Democratic candidates, was opposed to the war in Vietnam and to war in general. That was the extent of my knowledge and interest in politics and world affairs. But, more than that, I was naive; I believed, if I thought about it at all, that everybody was good, that, being good, they agreed with all my idealistic philosophies and that, certainly, no one would ever deliberately hurt me or anyone I loved.

Both my sons were students at Michigan State University in the late 60's. Russ was exactly three years older than Jeff but the divergence in their political attitudes more closely approximated a generation gap. I attribute this more to the climate of the times when they entered college than to an actual difference in personality. Russ was a freshman in 1964, Jeff in 1967 and in those three years, the world has changed greatly. The mere fact that the war had been going on for three more years had created a much more intense and vocal atmosphere on college campuses all over the country and Jeff was a natural for the kind of activism that was emerging. He seemed to have been born with an extra portion of ideals and concern for people. He was the kid who, at the age of six, spotted a broken bottle in the backyard and said, "Somebody could get hurt,"-picked up the bottle and nearly sliced his own finger off. When he was about 7 or 8, I remember receiving a phone call from an editor on Ebony Magazine, congratulating me on my son, and saying, "He's going to be another Martin Luther King." It seems that something had triggered his interest in civil rights and he had called the magazine to learn more about the plight of the blacks.

While still a student in high school, shortly before his 16th birthday, he wrote a poem which vividly expressed his feelings.

                Where Does It End?

        The strife and fighting continue into the night.
        Mechanical birds sound of death as they buzz 
        spitting fire into the doomed towns where the women
        and children run and hide in the bushes and ask why-
        why are we not left to live our own lives?

        In the pastures converted into battlefields
        the small metal pellets speed through the air,
                pausing occasionally to claim another victim.
        A teenager from a small Ohio farm clutches his side
        in pain and as he feels his life ebbing away, he too
                asks why-
        why is he dying here, thousands of miles from home,
        giving his life for those who did not even ask his help?
        The War Without a Purpose marches on relentlessly,
                not stopping to mourn for its dead,
                content to wait for its end.
        But all the frightened parents who still have their sons
                fear that
        the end is not in sight.

In February of 1970, with Russ already graduated and working as a packaging engineer in New Jersey, Jeff was feeling a little lost and lonely. He had joined Russ's fraternity in sophomore year, a move I had questioned since he did not seem at all the fraternity type. By the time Russ left Michigan, fraternity life had palled for Jeff. Serenading under the windows of the girls' dorms seemed frivolous and ridiculous at a time when some of his friends were fighting in Vietnam. He was disturbed by the changes he found in these friends when they returned. He felt they had become less human. He decided to transfer to Kent State in order to be with some of his friends from Plainview.

There were several other factors contributing to the chaos of his life at that time. Although he was well aware that his parents' marriage was far from happy, when the final break came, he was completely devastated. He flew home from school when Russ called him with the news and made a last attempt to patch things up. He realized within hours that it was hopeless and, while he appeared to accept it, the following months were very difficult for him. When he came home for vacation in late June, 1969, he was face to face with the undeniable fact that it was indeed over. Bernie was living in the house in Plainview, but I had moved to an apartment in Queens. That same night, his girl, Kris, whom he had gone with since high school, had broken up with him. It was a bad summer.

The months went by and we all adjusted. I got my divorce in Mexico that July. Jeff went back to school in the Fall and transferred to Kent State in January.

On Saturday, May 2nd, my mother called me. She was upset by a radio report of some upheaval at Kent. I phoned Jeff who reported that many of the students were infuriated by Nixon's announcement of the incursion into Cambodia and, in protest, some of them had gone into town where they gave vent to their frustration in some acts of vandalism. Jeff had not been among them; he had had a date on campus. We talked about more mundane things, said goodbye, and hung up.

At 10:00 a.m. on Monday, May 4th, Jeff called me at work. The situation on campus had escalated into further confrontations and he was afraid that I would have heard reports and been frightened. He wanted to reassure me that he was okay. The ROTC Building had been burned the night before and the National Guard was all over the campus. He seemed bitterly amused by a speech by Agnew (or did he say Nixon?) referring to the anti-war students as "bums." He told me that a rally was planned for noon and he was probably going to go. "Is that O.K.?" he asked. I assured him that I had faith in his judgment but asked if he thought that could accomplish anything. He said it probably couldn't but sometimes, if you felt something strongly enough, you had to take a stand. I said I understood.

As I drove home from work that afternoon, a newscaster reported that four students had been killed at Kent. I find it hard to believe now, but I don't remember feeling terribly frightened. I calmly decided to call Jeff and ask him to come home until things quieted down. I realize now that I must have been in shock from that moment on since the normal reaction of even those people who had no involvement with Kent State was far more violent than mine was.

I entered my apartment-put through my calls-after what seemed a very long while, a boy answered and I asked for Jeff. When I told him I was Jeff's mother, he said, "He's dead."

I was numb for so long that it takes great effort now to try to get the sequence of what happened then assembled into some cohesive form. I know that Artie (who subsequently became my husband) entered my apartment while I was still on the phone. We had had an appointment and I had left the door open for him when I went to make my call. He grabbed the phone when I screamed-and somehow got information about hospitals, morgues, identification.

I had been divorced the previous year and I called my ex-husband at the New York Times where he worked as a linotype operator. I told him Jeff had been killed.

I felt that if I could just reach Russ, everything would miraculously be fixed. I couldn't locate him. I remember countless phone calls, trying to find him. I had a sudden terrified thought-"This will kill my mother!" Russ was with my mother when they both heard the news on TV.

During that week, the whole country seemed to explode. It divided into two warring factions. Even in our suburban school district, when the students of the high school that Jeff had attended and the high school I was employed in, attempted to conduct a memorial service, some parents called to protest the fact that classes were being disrupted. Artie, who was acting principal of the high school, was called on the carpet by the Superintendent for permitting teachers to accompany the students onto the football field-and for refusing to reveal the names of the teachers who left their classrooms. My mother overheard a conversation in an elevator-"Those kids deserved it." There was a violent confrontation between antiwar protestors and a group of construction workers in Manhattan.

On Thursday, Jeff's funeral took place. As we approached the funeral chapel, hundreds of young people, carrying flowers, were slowly walking toward the building. I remember speaking to Dr. Benjamin Spock in the chapel and saying, "What will I do if Russ is drafted?" Mayor Lindsay arrived-senators-congressmen. There were speeches, none of which could penetrate my numbness. As we drove to the cemetery, the streets were lined with people-all silent and making the peace sign.

The following day, I received a call from a representative of Governor Rockefeller. He told me that the governor wanted to pa a condolence call on Sunday but said that I must not tell anybody nor have anyone else there. Russ had gone to Washington that day to participate in some rallies and wouldn't be back until Sunday (Mother's Day) and so that was no problem. I did have my mother with me-I felt sure that would be acceptable.

After getting lost for a while in Glen Oaks, Rockefeller arrived with Attorney General Louis Lefkowitz. They kissed me, drank Ginger Ale and asked me questions about the Plainview schools. The governor told me that he, too, had lost a son. While he sat beside me on my living room sofa, the door opened and Russ walked in-saw me sitting with the governor and gasped, "Holy Shit!" I still wonder why Rockefeller came that day. It couldn't have been political since he wanted no publicity. Was he on a spying mission from Nixon, whom I have always felt was responsible for my son's death because of the paranoid atmosphere he had created-or was it simply that he had lost a son too?

A friend told me that a lawyer friend of his wanted to see me. He felt that I should bring suit against Gov. Rhodes of Ohio and the National Guard. This lawyer had two sons of his own attending college and they had urged him to get involved. I went to his office, gave him whatever information he needed, agreed to have him do whatever he thought was appropriate, but I was still in too much pain to take an active role myself. For a long while after that I refused to discuss it with him or with any of the media people who tried to contact me.

Several months after the killings and woundings, the Portage County Grand Jury was convened. They issued 25 indictments-all against the demonstrators, while they all but praised the Guardsmen. Many people were angered by this and several groups began to send in petitions in protest of the Grand Jury's decision. The Scranton Commission was formed to investigate student unrest. At about that time, Rev. John Adams, a Washington-based Methodist minister got involved and organized a legal defense fund. John has been with us ever since and has become almost a father to the families of the dead and wounded children. He has kept us sane throughout the years of rage and frustration.

Peter Davies, a British insurance salesman who loved his adopted country and could not believe that this had happened here-and who realized that it could have been his, or anybody's, child on that campus, began his own personal campaign to get justice. He conducted an investigation, wrote a book entitled, "The Truth About Kent State," and just wouldn't let up.

Meanwhile, during the year long trial against the 25 demonstrators (the Kent 25), at least one juror hung each of the first four cases and the state then dropped the other 21 indictments. In all this time, I had still tenaciously clung to my position of non-involvement-"If it can't bring Jeff back, what's the use?"

During 1972/73, my husband was on sabbatical leave and we traveled all that year-as Watergate started to build. Our last stop, before returning home in June 1973, was Amsterdam, where we visited the Anne Frank House. As we walked through the house and I read the news articles that papered the walls and formed the history of the Nazi movement-and read about the people who kept quiet and let it happen-I began to see parallels. I was terribly shaken. Earlier that year, while driving through Louisiana, there was another incident at Baton Rouge and, again, students were killed. I thought, "If I had tried-could I have prevented that?" I thought about that as I sat in Vondel Park in Amsterdam and watched all the kids-and they all looked like Jeff. The pain wasn't going to go away no matter how long I hid.

The day we came home, I wrote a letter to the new Attorney General, Elliot Richardson. I sent a copy to my lawyer who, in turn, send it on to the New York Times. Within weeks after it appeared, the Justice Department announced that they had decided the case merited further investigation. Soon after that, the Supreme Court agreed to consider the matter of "sovereign immunity" in connection with Kent State, the principal which had prevented our bringing suit against the governor and National Guard of Ohio.

I received a call, several days after my letter was published, from a member of the staff of the Dick Cavett Show, asking if I would appear on the program. I was terrified but committed by this time to anything that would bring the matter to the public. Mr. Cavett had done his homework-he had read just about everything that had been written about Kent State (much more than I had up to that time) and was so sensitive and considerate that I lost my nervousness the moment he began to speak to me and actually forgot I was on camera.

That winter, Russ, Artie and I went to Washington and heard one of our lawyers plead in the Supreme Court for our right to bring suit. After we left the courthouse, we crossed the street to the Senate Building, where we had an appointment with Sen. Edward Kennedy. He was very sympathetic and so much "with us" and I kept thinking, "How can he stand there and listen to us? He's just found out that his son's leg must be amputated!"

The Supreme Court decision was a landmark one. In essence, they ruled unanimously (with Justice Douglass disqualifying himself on the grounds that he was too close to the situation) that not all acts of government officials can be protected; that some acts may represent a gross abuse of official discretion. In such an event, they said, suit should be allowed in order to determine if there had been abuse of power. (Scheuer vs. Rhodes).

Meanwhile, in Ohio, another Grand Jury was convened and inductments were brought against eight of the guardsmen. On November 8, 1974, after five days of trial in which the government was obliged to prove that the Guard specifically intended to deprive Kent students of their constitutional rights, U.S. Judge Frank Battisti ruled that "the government has presented no evidence bearing directly on the intentions of those guardsmen, including defendants who fired their weapons." And that was the end of the criminal trial.

In May of 1975, the Kent State civil suit began in Federal Court in Cleveland. My husband and I commuted back and forth each week, spending two or three days a week in court and the remainder at our jobs, until the end of school. In July and August, we were in court almost continuously, leaving only when our emotions were so raw that we felt compelled to get away from what was happening in that courtroom. The trial lasted for 15 weeks. During that time, we truly became a family with the wounded students, their parents and the parents of Dandy Scheuer, Bill Schroeder and Allison Krause, who had been killed with Jeff. Each afternoon, when court was adjourned, we would sit together and take comfort from one another. Dean Kahler was there every day in his wheelchair. He had been a tall, strapping farm boy before May 4, 1970-a gentle redheaded kid, deeply religious-and now he would never walk again.

I learned about the complexities of jury selection, about peremptory challenges, the importance of every aspect of the potential jurors' backgrounds. I watched while all Jews, all students, all longhaired prospects were quickly eliminated. We were hopeful when two blacks were permitted to remain (a mistake, I later found out.)

During those 15 weeks, I listened while our lovely kids were depicted as loudmouthed, vulgar, Communist radicals. The impression was strong that the use of four letter words was sufficient reason for shooting unarmed students. I flinched as the opposition lawyers coldly and disdainfully tossed photos of my dead son on a table or on the floor. As the weeks went on, it became obvious that the judge was biased against us and, in fact, made little attempt to hide his feelings. This was indicated by his manner toward us and our lawyers and witnesses, as well as by his prejudiced rulings. When Gov. Rhodes took the stand, the judge simpered, "Good morning, Your Excellency." We were not permitted to present much of our important testimony. The examples were endless and eventually were culminated in the judge's behavior regarding a threat to the life of one of the jurors. His handling of that situation was designed to frighten and intimidate the jurors and was the main reason that we have now been granted a new trial.

Despite all of this, we couldn't help feeling in the last days of the trial, that the jury would have to find in our favor-any other verdict was unthinkable. The jury was out for five days. We could hear the sounds of arguing and crying emanating from the jury room. Finally they filed into the courtroom and the verdict was read. It had been determined that no one was responsible for the deaths and woundings! For a moment, there was complete silence. We could not understand what was being said. Then Dean Kahler's girl, Valerie, laid her head on Dean's lap and sobbed.

Further reading:
Jeff Miller memorial speech - A 2004 memorial speech Dr. J. Gregory Payne gave at Plainview High School for the dedication of a memorial for Jeff Miller who was a student there before going to Kent State.

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