Today, August 24, 2010, is the 40th anniversary of the bombing of Sterling Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. For the first time since then, family of the anti-war physics researcher, Robert Fassnacht, who was killed in the bombing, have spoken publicly, notably his daughter, Heidi, in this past Sunday's Wisconsin State Journal.
She reports that the family is doing fine, and his son is now a professional astronomer. She also reports that at the time of his death, it was believed by many around him that Robert Fassnacht was nearing a scientific breakthrough in cryogenics that might have aided long distance electricity transmission. He was up late keeping an eye on the Dewar flask of liquid helium for supercooling in his lab's experiments. The last person who saw him alive was a security guard who saw him at 3:30 AM and reminded him to turn off the lights when he was done. The guard saw him sitting at his desk "furiously scribbling notes on a pad" that was destroyed by the bomb, along with all the lab's equipment, which went off 12 minutes later.
The anniversary has also brought forth the start of an oral history project about the bombing on the UW-Madison campus, which is to result in a play in Spring 2012, as reported in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. The online commentary there is pretty bizarre.
Leo Burt, one of the four bombers, remains at large. Of the others, all of whom served prison time, Karl Armstrong runs a fruit juice stand in Madison; David Fine is a paralegal in Oregon, and Karl's younger brother, Dwight, died earlier this year. A late comment on that post on Aug. 6 by "Christopher" sympathetically describes the much-troubled Dwight in his final year of life.
In my earlier post I reported that Karl Armstrong had unequivocally apologized for his actions, something that is not what one sees in some sources. In tracking this down for confirmation of what I heard in person, I came across a fascinating 72-page senior honors thesis (.pdf) from Lawrence University in 2004 by Andrea Rochelle Blimling entitled, "Blood on the Third Coast: Consequences of Madison's 1970 Sterling Hall Bombing". This is extremely interesting and largely accurate, as near as I can tell and remember. One can find a statement of remorse by Karl Armstrong on p. 55, and an account of what I reported on p. 58, although it differs slightly from my memory (its source is Paul Soglin, then Madison's mayor, who was in attendance as I reported). I remember Karl Armstrong saying more than Soglin recalls, and I recall dead silence after his speech, with no attempted rebuke by Ken Mate.
BTW, I found this thesis while searching for an article in the Wisconsin State Journal that reported Armstrong's apology, but could not find it. However, I remember it well because my father read it and snorted in disgust and skepticism at the report of this apology. It was probably the last comment my father made on the matter, as he died less than two months later.
For the historical record, I note some minor errors in the otherwise very well done senior honors thesis.
The Dow demonstrations of October 1967 were a year and a half after the Selective Service demonstrations of Spring, 1966, not the "next semester."
The name of the local Congressman was "Kastenmeier," not "Kastenmeyer."
The anti-war Teach-In of 1965 took place in 6210 Social Science, not its supposed "Great Hall." The Great Hall is on the fourth floor of the Memorial Union and has been the site of many events, including many political ones, but many others as well, including the retirement dinner of my late father in 1978, Director at the time of the bombing of the Center that was the target.
Most of the Center's offices were on lower floors than the seventh, although above the labs that were hit by the bombing.
The protester who was unhappy with Paul Soglin in 2004 was Lee "Zeldin," not "Zelbin."
And the report pointed out an error in my posting. It was 2003, not 2005, when Paul Soglin ran again for mayor, and lost, being "the most conservative candidate" running.
My final comment on the anniversary of this tragedy, besides being glad to hear that Robert Fassnacht's family is doing well, is to hope as Peter Dorman noted in comments on my last posting, that if Leo Burt is still alive (or even if he is dead as many think), that he did or has made something useful of his life on the lam to somehow atone for what he did on August 24, 1970.