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Of NORMAN MORRISON Thirty years ago a Baltimore Quaker set himself on fire to protest the war in Vietnam. Did it make a difference?


July 30, 1995|By Alice Steinbach | Alice Steinbach,Sun Staff Writer

"Of course, if I had known I would have done everything in my power to stop him," Anne says. "After his death I heard that he had discussed forms of dramatic or sacrificial protest of the war with a couple of friends."

At about 3 p.m. Anne left in the family's Volkswagen bus to pick up Ben and Tina from Friends School. When she returned home an hour later, her husband and baby were gone. The only message from Norman was a note saying a neighbor had called.


To this day, eyewitness accounts vary as to what happened about 100 yards from the main entrance of the Pentagon on November 2, 1965. But those who were there reconstruct the event in "Rashomon"-like fashion, each offering his own version of Norman Morrison's last moments.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert C. Bundt, now 60, retired and living in Michigan:

"We had just gotten out of work, and I was standing there at the River Entrance waiting to be picked up. I looked up and saw him [Norman] walking along in quite a hurry on the other side of the drive. He was carrying a small child.

"Pretty soon I heard yelling, and then I saw this black smoke rising from below this wall, maybe 4 or 5 feet high. So I jumped onto the wall and I saw this person on fire. . . . I didn't see the `` baby at that time. But I heard people yelling at him, 'Drop the baby!' I jumped down. Colonel Johnson was already down there trying to put out the fire."

Army Col. (then Lt. Col.) Charles S. Johnson, now 74, retired and living in Massachusetts, was the first to reach Norman Morrison:

"He was standing up, his face to the wall, his body sort of frozen and rigid. His hands were locked on the wall and there were flames coming up from one side. And there was a baby. The baby was making no sounds. I swung at the child to push the child away from the wall and away from him. To put some distance between she and Morrison.

"I saw his face. It was blank. He was alive but there was no indication of pain. No indication of anything.

"Eventually I wrestled him down to the ground and started beating the flames with my hands. . . . I was trying to pull him down to get his face out of the flames so he could breathe. . . . Then Sergeant Bundt yelled for people to throw us some coats. Coats started flying down, and we covered him up with them and tried to beat out any flames that jumped up.

"He was still pretty hot. The heat peeled my hands and part of my face. . . . At about this time the medical people showed up."

Army Maj. Richard V. Lundquist, now 64, retired and living in North Carolina, was leaving his job in the Army's office of personnel at 5:15 p.m. on his way to a night class in economics:

"I saw this well-dressed man standing behind a retaining wall near the river entrance. He had a baby in his arms and was shouting something out as the people came out of the building. I looked away for a minute and when I looked back I saw him in flames.

"People were shouting, 'Drop the baby.' I don't know if he was holding the child or not. I climbed over the wall, and the first thing I saw was the baby on the ground, several feet away from him. He was staggering backwards. I couldn't see if she had fallen or been placed down by him.

"Then I picked the child up. . . . There was no sound coming from her. She seemed oblivious to what had happened. . . . She smelled of kerosene, but she could have gotten that by being held near his coat. Because when I carried her over to the guard -- just that little way -- I noticed my uniform blouse smelled of kerosene all night."

Capt. Robert Ruderman, the Pentagon physician on duty that evening, was 27 then; he now practices hematology in Riverdale:

"When I got there, just looking at the state of the man, I knew he wasn't going to make it. The fire was out but he was totally burned from top to bottom. Unconscious. . . . There was nothing anybody could do for him.

"He died officially within two minutes of taking off in the ambulance for Fort Myer. I was there with him. . . . I was told the next day that he had a baby with him and he was holding the baby while he was on fire. But I never saw the baby."


Robert S. McNamara is no longer sure of what he remembers about Norman Morrison's self-immolation. His accounts vary.

"I watched it," he told Larry King on the April 28, 1995, broadcast of "Larry King Live."

But when asked again, for the purpose of this article, if he personally witnessed the event, he says: "My memories of the event are confused by what I've read and what I've been told since that time, in contrast to what my own personal knowledge was. . . . When I was writing the book -- because that event stuck out in the mind -- I asked my researcher to search the newspaper files. Which he did."

And, Mr. McNamara says, when the researcher presented him with articles on Norman Morrison from the Washington Post and the New York Times, "Both articles indicate that I did not see the event. I was not sure of that until I read the articles."

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