This is our common memorial tribute to Norman E. Lane Jr., brother, cousin, friend, athlete, humanist, teacher—and Marine—who fell before the bull on Friday afternoon, March 29, 1968, while serving with H&S Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, at Cam Lo Hill (C-3 battalion base area), Quang Tri Province, Republic of Vietnam. The name of Norman E. Lane Jr., unlike those of John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King Jr., does not appear in significant biographies or other scholarly resources in the humanities. It does appear, with 58,306 other names, engraved on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. This Project, being undertaken 46-plus years after Norman Lane's death in Vietnam, draws on the recollections of his extended family and friends, his Vanderbilt undergraduate and Law School classmates, and the students from his English and French classes at Haywood High School (HHS) in Brownsville, Tennessee, over the one, all-too-short academic year 1965-1966. The Project includes the oral histories of Marine Corps veterans—some of whom knew Norman at Vanderbilt as both law students and as officers of the Marine Corps Reserve—some of whom were classmates and even platoon mates of Norman's at Quantico—and several of whom served with him in Vietnam, in either H&S or Kilo Co.'s, 3/4 Marines, just south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) over 1967-1968. The project is fueled by the vivid memory of an early spring Saturday in 1968—my second cousin and best friend Richard Carlton and I had just turned 16 in the week or two before—when my family and I, and many others, were stunned by the news of Norman Lane's death. The elements of this Project have been with me since that day. Now, with the benefit of 46-plus years of history, reflection, and preparation—we tell the story of the life, promise, and tragic death of the "brilliant student" from West Vancouver High (Vancouver, British Columbia)—while retaining some of the innocence in perspective of that 16-year old.
Norman Lane Jr. The Young Man. 1951-1962
Norman was born in Knoxville, TN, where his father Norman Sr. worked as a civil engineer with TVA, but moved to West Vancouver with his parents and younger sister Linda in 1951. Norman Sr. was a civil engineer with the B.C. International Engineering Company in downtown Vancouver. As his grandparents lived in Brownsville, TN, and were direct descendants of the Howell Taylor family, Norman also grew up at the Taylor Kinfolks Campground, during the annual August Camp Meetings. In Vancouver, Norman Edward Lane Jr. was the "Crazy Legs" Hirsch of the North Shore’s Gordon Sturtridge League in 1955. Between 1949 and 1957, Elroy Hirsch was the future Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver for the Los Angeles Rams, winners of the 1951 National Football League championship in the pre-American Football League era. Fourteen-year-old Lane was the stellar receiver for the Tigercats in the local gridiron circuit’s first season when it was called the West Vancouver Six-Man League. Lane, in the accelerated program at West Vancouver High, graduated a year ahead of his peers, in 1958. A member of the school’s debating team, he was chosen as a host for the school’s graduation banquet and dance at the Hotel Vancouver Ballroom that May 30. His graduation write-up in the yearbook said, "A deep thinker, Norm can’t understand why people can’t understand him. Born in Tennessee, he disclaims any relationship to Elvis and keeps Div. 9 in fits with his poetry."
Norman graduated from high school in three years. His younger sister Linda recalls, "Norman was so brilliant. . . . I remember not wanting the teachers at the junior high school I attended knowing that I was his sister because there was no way I could do as well as he did!" After two years at the University of British Columbia, he transferred to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN. Norman studied abroad in France the fall semester of his senior year before graduating with a major in English in 1962. One Vanderbilt classmate was Ruff Fant, who went on to Harvard Law School. He and Norman would be reunited in 1966.
The Transition. Questions? 1962-1965
Norman entered Law School at Vanderbilt that fall (1962). President John F. Kennedy gave the 1963 Convocation Address there on May 18, 1963. Among others, Norman became acquainted with John Russell, Joe Myers, Chuck Cherry, and Albert Noe, all law students who had begun classes in the fall of 1963. Myers, Russell, and Cherry had already completed one summer of boot camp with the Marine Corps Reserve, through Platoon Leaders Class, that year, and Joe in particular has told me he was convinced that his own Law School performance benefited significantly. We do not know why, but Norman did not do well in Law School and ultimately left the program following the 1965 summer session due to poor grades. We know that Norman first reported for a physical in September, 1964, at Naval Recruiting Station-Nashville, in order to be considered for Officer Candidate School (OCS) in the Naval Reserve. He was not directly accepted for Naval OCS, he left Law School in 1965 and taught English and French at Haywood High School over the 1965-1966 academic year, and he also assisted Coach Russell Lindsey with the freshman football team that fall. From Mack Thornton, sophomore student in Norman’s English class, "I think everyone recognized his brilliance and wit and couldn’t get enough of it. . . . I remember John Hamby (nicknamed 'Toad') squashing a wasp on a window, and the rest of the class was devoted to 'the life of a wasp'. . . ." Norman returned to the Marine Corps Recruiting Station-Nashville on April 1, 1966, and enlisted, with the plan to enter Officer Candidate School in the Marine Corps Reserve. What was driving this plan? I do not know.
The Commitment. No Turning Back. 1966-1968
After his April 1, 1966, enlistment and the end of the HHS spring term, Norman started work on July 5 at a Public Day Camp (as a Nature Study Specialist, who would guess?) in Scarsdale, NY. One of his students there was 9-year old Carol Weston, who today is a very successful writer of children's literature, based in Manhattan. Norman's sister Linda had married on March 12, and their Dad had tragically been felled by a fatal heart attack on May 16. Norman's petition to reenter Vanderbilt Law School was denied one week later, on May 23. On June 22, he wrote to John Russell:
On July 11 Norman received his orders to report to Quantico, VA, for Marine Corps OCS—with the 41st Officer Candidate Course (OCC)—beginning Monday, August 22. In 1966 the Taylor Kinfolks Camp Meeting began on Friday, August 19. Considering Norman’s love of Camp Meeting, his immediate and extended family, and his many friends, it appears that he traveled by car to Quantico on Friday, August 19, 1966. Not only did he miss Camp Meeting—as it would turn out the final Camp Meeting he attended was in August, 1965—but he also missed the Memorial Service for his Dad held that Sunday, August 21. He finished classes with the 41st OCC on October 27, just nine days after Linda’s first son Michael Nicholas was born. Now commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant, Norman immediately reported to Marine Corps Base Quantico, The Basic School (TBS), on October 28, graduating with TBS class 3-67 (Foxtrot Company, 2nd Platoon, with Will Fahey, Dave Griswold, Ruff Fant, Joe Gerry, Ed Kropp, Al Johns, Jim Hughey, Steve Joyner, and Mike Hemmert, with Cpt. Jerry Paull, commanding) on March 29, 1967. He was then assigned to H&S Co., 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, at Camp Lejeune, NC, where he served briefly as a Platoon Commander before assignment to the Ground Defense Force at Guantanamo Bay. Here he served as Assistant Platoon Commander, 81mm Mortars, over May—mid-September. During this time, on July 17, Norman received orders to report to Camp Smedley Butler, Okinawa, “by November 1” in preparation for service in Vietnam. The one record of leave taken that I have found is after his reassignment from Camp Lejeune on October 12, 1967—from October 17-November 1. The photo below (right) was cropped from a picture taken with his Mom, Betsy, and Elizabeth and Marion Thornton in the living room of his grandparents' home on North Washington Avenue. He also visited others, like Sally and Mo Cavin, during this time. Joe Myers, who was serving as a Legal Officer at Camp Lejeune, also saw Norman shortly before he left in October, 1967. Norman drove his car from Brownsville to New Orleans, said goodbye to Linda and her family, and flew out for Travis AFB, CA, en route to Okinawa.
Vietnam. Wednesday, November 15, 1967 — Friday, March 29, 1968
Allen Willyerd of Brownsville had grown up there with Norman Lane, and in mid-1967 he had been on a Fleet Marine Force cruise in the Mediterranean (the Six-Day War erupted during this Med Cruise). By fall he was also en route to Vietnam via Travis AFB, and who does he run into?—NORMAN EDWARD LANE. From Travis they flew, possibly on the same aircraft, to Okinawa, which hosts headquarters for the III Marine Expeditionary Force. But there they were separated, partly due to a snafu with Allen's orders to Vietnam. The route for Norman was U.S. duty station to Okinawa to Third Marine Division headuarters at Dong Ha, and then to his first assigned area—the Cam Lo River (C-3) Bridge. Lt. Lane was initially assigned as weapons platoon commander with Lima Co., 3/4 Marines, but in early December he was reassigned to H&S Co. as assistant 81mm mortar platoon commander. A few of the Kilo Co., 3/4 Marines and Corpsmen that I am in contact with, in addition to Allen, are Dale Wittler, Michael Reagan, Doc Nunn, Peter Wymes, J.D. Spindler, Tony Milazzo, Rick Satterlee, and Vincent Santaniello (represented by his nephew Ralph Morales). Bill Willett (H&S and Mike Co.’s), Jim Singer (H&S and Mike Co.'s), and Michael Reilly (H&S Co.) knew Norman in country, as did Allen. Norman's Vanderbilt and Quantico buddy John Russell served in Vietnam as Legal Officer over 1967-1968, as did Chuck Cherry over April, 1968-May, 1969, and Joe Myers and Ruff Fant also served as Legal Officers over this period, back in the States. 1st Lt. Norman E. Lane Jr. was killed during an enemy mortar attack at 2:05 p.m. local time on the afternoon of Friday, March 29, 1968. In Brownsville it was 1:05 a.m. Norman began his final journey home from Da Nang on Monday, April 1, arriving at Memphis Metropolitan Airport on the afternoon of April 4. This final flight from Philadelphia was scheduled to arrive at 3:56 p.m. CST.
From Hampton Sides' Hellhound on his Trail:
"Around 4:00 p.m., Galt trundled down the narrow staircase of Bessie Brewer's rooming house and got in his car."
At precisely 6:01 p.m. a shot fired by "Eric Galt" from this Memphis “flophouse,” also described as "a half-step up from homelessness," a 15-minute drive from the Memphis Metropolitan Airport, mortally wounded Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. On Friday morning, April 5, Norman Lane and Dr. King both lay in repose, some 60 miles from each other. Norman E. Lane Jr. was laid to eternal rest at Tabernacle Cemetery that afternoon. Palm Sunday was April 7. On the previous Sunday night, March 31, President Johnson had announced steps to limit the war in Vietnam and had reported his decision not to seek re-election. As established after his arrest on June 8, 1968, Eric Galt had been but one alias used by James Earl Ray, who pled guilty in 1969 to the murder of Dr. King. On the day Ray was arrested by Scotland Yard in London, Senator Robert F. Kennedy was laid to his eternal rest under the night stars, at Arlington National Cemetery.
Photos Courtesy of Bill Willett, CO, H&S Co., 3/4 Marines, October, 1967-January, 1968
The card is dated December 21, 1967, the same date as the photograph above.