Sunday, June 27, 2010

Deceased--Dwight Armstrong

Dwight Armstrong
August 29th, 1951 to June 20th, 2010

Vietnam, politics, frustration...something went wrong and Robert Fassnacht, a physics researcher, died.

"Dwight Armstrong, Who Bombed a College Building in 1970, Dies at 58"


Margalit Fox

June 26th, 2010

The New York Times

Dwight Armstrong, one of four young men who in 1970 bombed a building on the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison, killing one person and injuring several others — a political protest that, gone violently wrong, endures in the national memory as an act of domestic terrorism — died on June 20 in Madison. He was 58.

The cause was lung cancer, said Susan Lampert Smith, a spokeswoman for the University of Wisconsin Hospital, where he died.

The bombing took place on Aug. 24, 1970, during a time of intense agitation against the Vietnam War. At 3:42 a.m., an explosion tore through Sterling Hall, a building that housed both the university physics department and the Army Mathematics Research Center. The center, which operated under a contract with the United States Army, had been the target of many nonviolent protests since it opened in the 1950s.

Though the bombers said afterward that they had not intended to hurt anyone, the explosion killed Robert Fassnacht, a physics researcher who was working late. Mr. Fassnacht, 33, a father of three, was, his family said afterward, against the war.

On Sept. 2, the Federal Bureau of Investigation began a nationwide hunt for four men charged with the bombing: Dwight Armstrong, who had turned 19 five days after the explosion; his brother, Karleton, 22; David S. Fine, 18; and Leo F. Burt, 22.

Placed on the bureau’s most-wanted list, the four lived separate, fugitive lives, in some cases for years. Of the three who were eventually apprehended, Dwight Armstrong remained underground the longest, for nearly seven years. Mr. Armstrong, who had driven the getaway car after the bombing, was arrested in Toronto in April 1977.

That May, he pleaded no contest to a state charge of second-degree murder and guilty to federal charges including conspiracy. In June, in a plea agreement, he was sentenced to seven years on the state charges and seven on the federal, to be served concurrently. He was paroled in 1980.

In 1987, he was arrested in Indiana on charges of helping operate a methamphetamine lab there. Sentenced to 10 years, he was released in 1991. Afterward, he returned to Madison, where he drove a cab and helped take care of his mother.

“My life,” Dwight Armstrong told The Capital Times, a Madison newspaper, in 1992, “has not been something to write home about.”

Dwight Alan Armstrong was born in Madison on Aug. 29, 1951, the youngest of four children of Donald and Ruth Armstrong. His father was a machinist; his mother a bakery worker. By all accounts, Dwight was an ordinary Midwestern boy, fond of playing baseball and bicycling around his exurban community.

An indifferent student, Dwight left high school in 1968, in 10th grade. By 1970, following his elder brother’s example, he had become an ardent opponent of the war. On New Year’s Day of that year, Dwight and his brother, known as Karl, stole a light plane from a Wisconsin airfield. With Dwight at the controls — he had only about 10 hours of flying experience — they took to the sky and dropped homemade bombs over a local ordnance plant. None detonated.

The watershed moment in the brothers’ activism, Karl Armstrong said, came on May 4, 1970, the day members of the Ohio National Guard, responding to a demonstration at Kent State University, shot and killed four students there. “My brother and I just looked at each other,” Karl Armstrong said in an interview on Wednesday. “And I just said, ‘Army Math.’ ”

On Aug. 16, 1970, as described in the F.B.I.’s affidavit charging the four men with the bombing, Karl Armstrong bought about 100 gallons of fuel oil at a local service station. On the 19th, at a farmers’ cooperative, he bought about 1,700 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer. The manager of the cooperative, the affidavit said, cautioned Karl that if the fertilizer were mixed with fuel oil and used in conjunction with dynamite, a tremendous explosion could result. But Mr. Armstrong already knew that.

On Aug. 24, in the predawn hours, Karl Armstrong parked a stolen van packed with fertilizer, fuel and dynamite outside Sterling Hall. The men chose that time, Karl later said in interviews, because they thought the building would be empty. Dwight, meanwhile, was waiting a few blocks away with a yellow Corvair borrowed from their mother. About 3:40, after looking in the building’s windows and seeing no one, Karl lighted the fuse.

As he drove the getaway car carrying the four men, Dwight Armstrong abruptly pulled over.

“I said, ‘What are you doing?’ ” Karl Armstrong recalled Wednesday.

“He said, ‘You have to look.’ And there, above campus, was this huge fireball going up.”

The blast inflicted millions of dollars’ worth of damage on Sterling Hall and surrounding buildings. Besides killing Mr. Fassnacht, it injured at least three others. The Army Mathematics Research Center itself sustained minimal damage.

The four men drove to a truck stop north of town, where they celebrated with a round of Cokes, Karl Armstrong said. Soon after, they heard on the car radio that a man had died in the blast.

The brothers returned the Corvair — they had promised their mother they would. As Karl recalled Wednesday, she asked them, “Did you hear thunder last night?”

The four men soon scattered. The Armstrong brothers made their way to New York but separated not long afterward.

In the interview with The Capital Times, Dwight Armstrong expressed qualified remorse for the killing, arguing that the bombing itself was a political necessity. “We did what we had to do; we did what we felt a lot of other people should have done,” he said. “I don’t care what public opinion is; we did what was right.”

Mr. Armstrong was divorced. Besides his mother and brother, he is survived by a daughter, Drew, and two sisters, Mira and Lorene.

His confederate Mr. Fine was arrested in California in 1976, pleaded guilty and received a seven-year sentence. He was paroled in 1979. The whereabouts of Mr. Burt remain unknown.

Karl Armstrong was apprehended in Toronto in 1972. The next year, after pleading guilty to a variety of state and federal charges, he received a 23-year sentence. He was paroled in 1980 and returned to Madison.

In the winter, Karl Armstrong drives a taxi. In the warmer months, as he has for nearly three decades, he operates a juice cart. The cart is on a pedestrian mall at the edge of the campus, a few blocks from the rebuilt Sterling Hall, where a plaque honors Mr. Fassnacht’s memory.

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