Dwight Armstrong

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The aftermath of the Sterling Hall bombing.

Dwight Alan Armstrong (August 29, 1951 – June 20, 2010) was an American anti-Vietnam War activist who was one of four persons involved in the August 24, 1970, Sterling Hall bombing on the campus University of Wisconsin–Madison, in an act of political protest against the University's research efforts on behalf of the United States armed forces. The bomb destroyed the building, killing one person and injuring three. Armstrong spent several years on the run after the incident.

Armstrong was born on August 29, 1951, in Madison, Wisconsin. He grew up there as "an ordinary Midwestern boy, fond of playing baseball and bicycling around his exurban community" as described by The New York Times in his obituary. He dropped out of high school in 10th grade and by 1970 he had joined his brother Karl in actively opposing American involvement in the war in Vietnam. On New Year's Eve 1969, Dwight and Karl stole a light plane from a local airport and unsuccessfully dropped bombs on an area ordnance factory.[1][2]

In response to the Kent State shootings on May 4, 1970, in which four protesters were shot and killed by the Ohio National Guard, they conceived of an attack on the Army Mathematics Research Center at the University of Wisconsin, which had been a frequent site of anti-War protests. Karl made a bomb out of dynamite, 100 US gallons (380 l; 83 imp gal) of fuel oil and 1,700 pounds (770 kg) of ammonium nitrate fertilizer.[1]

The bomb was placed in a stolen van left next to Sterling Hall, a building that housed the Army Mathematics Research Center, as well as the university's physics department. They lit the fuse after checking the windows of Sterling Hall and seeing no activity, assuming that the building was empty. A bomb threat was phoned in to the Madison Police Department, giving five minutes notice of the planned detonation, though previous such calls turned out to be pranks. A police cruiser was dispatched to the site minutes before the explosion.[3] The bomb detonated at 3:42 AM on August 24, 1970, killing Robert Fassnacht, a physics post-doctoral researcher who was working late, injuring three others, and causing millions of dollars in damage to the building.[1][2]

Dwight Armstrong drove away with his brother, Leo F. Burt, and David Fine to a truck stop where they celebrated the bombing. When they heard a news report on their car radio that someone had been killed by the explosion, all four went on the run, with Dwight's seven years at large the longest of the four people suspected in the bombing aside from Leo Burt, who is still at large. On September 4, the Federal Bureau of Investigation began a search for the four fugitives, placing them on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. Armstrong remained underground until he was arrested in April 1977 in Toronto. He pleaded no contest to state murder charges and federal conspiracy charges. As part of his plea bargain he was sentenced concurrently to seven years each in state and federal prison and was released on parole in 1980 on the condition that he participate in a community rehabilitation program.[1][4][5]

He was arrested again in 1987 in Indiana where he was charged with operating a meth lab.[4] He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and was released in 1991. He came back to Madison, where he tended to his mother and worked driving a taxi.[1] In 2001, he purchased the Radical Rye Deli with Karl.[6][7]

In a 1992 interview with The Capital Times of Madison, he stated that "My life has not been something to write home about". He justified the bombing, stating that "We did what we had to do; we did what we felt a lot of other people should have done", continuing that "I don't care what public opinion is; we did what was right."[1][5]

Armstrong died of lung cancer at age 58 on June 20, 2010, at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics in Madison, Wisconsin. He was survived by his mother, his brother, two sisters, and a daughter.[1]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Fox, Margalit. "Dwight Armstrong, Who Bombed a College Building in 1970, Dies at 58", The New York Times, June 26, 2010. Accessed June 28, 2010.
  2. ^ a b Michael Fellner (May 18, 1986). "The Untold Story:Part 1". The Milwaukee Journal's Wisconsin Magazine. Retrieved June 28, 2010. 
  3. ^ Bie, Michael; and Bie, Mike. "It Happened in Wisconsin", p. 107, Globe Pequot, 2007. ISBN 0-7627-4153-8. Accessed September 14, 2010.
  4. ^ a b Staff. "Armstrong faces prison term", The Milwaukee Journal, September 6, 1988. Accessed June 28, 2010.
  5. ^ a b Michael Fellner (May 25, 1986). "The Untold Story:Part 2". The Milwaukee Journal's Wisconsin Magazine. pp. 4–19. Retrieved June 28, 2010. 
  6. ^ Pulley, John L. "Radical Consequences", The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 19, 2002. Accessed June 28, 2010.
  7. ^ Martell, Chris. "RADICAL REVISITED KARL ARMSTRONG REMAINS A CONTROVERSIAL FIGURE 31 YEARS AFTER THE STERLING HALL BOMBING. THE BUSINESSMAN LIVES AMONG THOSE WHO WILL PROBABLY ALWAYS VIEW HIM WITH CURIOSITY.", Wisconsin State Journal, December 1, 2001. Accessed June 28, 2010.