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The Person Who Deciphered the Order to Shoot at Kent State

Stuart Allen died on November 22, 2016. I learned of his death by way of an email from Laurel Krause, whose sister Allison was gunned down by the National Guard on May 4, 1970, just after the noon hour during a demonstration against the U.S. incursion into Cambodia during the Vietnam War.

Stuart Allen would not like to be called a hero, although he certainly was one. Stuart was both an audio and video expert, with degrees in both fields and worked out of his lab and business in New Jersey that offers expert analyses of that kind of data. Stuart often worked for law enforcement, including the Justice Department and the FBI.

In 2010, both Stuart and another forensic audio expert, Tom Owen, provided information at the request of the Cleveland Plain Dealer (“New analysis of 40-year old recording of Kent State shootings reveals that Ohio Guard was given an order to prepare to fire,” May 9, 2010) about a new analysis of the famous Strubbe tape, a recording of the events that led up to the death of four students and the wounding of nine others during a demonstration against the U.S. incursion into Cambodia.

The tape that Stuart analyzed, and the results with which Tom Owen concurred, yielded dramatic new information. Using state-of-the-art forensic audio tools, one of which was developed by the Soviet KGB prior to the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Stuart found that a sequence of orders was given to the National Guardsmen as they reached the top of Blanket Hill on the campus of Kent State University, turned in unison, and fired 67 times at unarmed student demonstrators below the hill.

These are the words that shed new light on the history of that horrific day and gave new meaning to the search for the historic truth about the events of that day.

“Guard”… “All right, prepare to fire!”… “Get down!”… and finally “Guard!”…is followed by the fusillade of lethal bullets.  It took seventeen seconds for those words to change history forever.

Alan Canfora, one of the students wounded as a result of the Guard’s gunfire, located the tape in 2007 in a Yale University archive and called the two audio experts’ findings a “major development.”

Barry Levine, a Kent State student whose girlfriend,  Allison Krause, was killed in the volley of gunfire, said, when informed of the tape’s new analysis, “How do you spell bombshell?”

I interviewed Stuart Allen on two occasions while working with an issue related to the new analysis of the tape with fellow writer and author of Four Dead In Ohio (1995), William A. Gordon.

I was taken at how unassuming Stuart Allen was as we talked about the contents of the new analysis of the Strubbe tape. Stuart wanted only to make a contribution based on his scientific expertise so that history would record the exact words uttered on that fateful day in May 1970 in Ohio. He donated a significant amount of time to the analysis of the tape and its presentation. He donated his expertise to educate those interested in what history actually will ultimately record about that day that took place over 46 years ago. Stuart emphasized how important he felt about getting that history right.

In Albert Camus’ novel, The Plague (1947), a character in a scene that can only be described as existential, struggles to get a simple description correct as a writer, and after torturous revisions of his narrative, and when he is satisfied with his simple offering, exclaims, “Hats off, gentlemen [sic]!” thinking of how his writing will be greeted.

There was nothing affected about Stuart Allen as there was with Camus’ struggling character, but the revelation of “Hats off, gentlemen and gentle persons!” is perhaps one of the best ways to honor Stuart Allen and his work!

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Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).

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