46 years is a relatively long time, but the events and progress made since January, 2014, in remembering the life and service of Norman Lane Jr., have made the wait worthwhile. The Norman Lane Jr. Memorial Project – has surely helped those who knew him to remember him, and it has made it possible for those who never knew him – to come to know him. But the Project is still more than that – Norman’s extraordinary life – instigator, star football receiver, brilliant student, deep thinker, nature specialist, stargazer, humanist, law student, high school teacher, Francophile, life of the party – and Marine Corps warrior – serves as a prism to present, future, and past. One important vision for the Project connects the 1966-1968 period of commitment in Norman’s life to the current national commemoration of the somber 50th anniversary of the American war in Vietnam. As the population of Vietnam veterans begins to age, the Project emphasizes oral histories as a method for recording these stories – while we can. In 2014 the Project reunited four Vietnam Marines and Corpsmen, three of whom had last seen each other on a hill in the vicinity of Khe Sanh in 1968. By connecting with the recent National Endowment for the Humanities initiative, “Standing Together: The Humanities and the Experience of War,” and the new PBS documentary series, "The Vietnam War," being produced and directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick for release in 2017, we explore, through the prism of one life and war experience, war and military service. This examination helps us to understand the military experience and to consider our obligations to one another.
What We Have Done, and What We Will Do . . .
For the purpose of 501(c)(3) organization, the activities of the Project are charitable, educational, and scientific. The Project’s first charitable effort supported the July, 2014, "Memorial Tribute — Norman E. Lane Jr.," which was held in Norman's hometown of Brownsville, TN. Norman Edward Lane Jr. was a 27-year old Vanderbilt University humanities graduate (BA, English, 1962), who was killed in action in Quang Tri Province, Republic of Vietnam, on March 29, 1968, while serving as a 1stLt. and 81mm Mortar Platoon Commander with H&S Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines. Supported by a very generous contribution from an anonymous "fellow Vietnam Marine," the Project brought in four Vietnam Marines and Corpsmen – from New Mexico, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Arkansas – who had served together over 1967-1968 with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines. Three of these veterans had last seen each other on a hill near Khe Sanh in 1968 – one had been a close friend of Norman Lane’s – they had grown up together in Brownsville, and they served together in Vietnam. An interview, "Men of Kilo Company Remember, 46 Years Later," was recorded with the four men; both the two-hour interview and the video of the Memorial Tribute – which featured talks by two Vietnam veterans – are freely accessible to the public through the Project website. In history, Lt. Lane’s funeral service was held in Brownsville on Friday afternoon, April 5, 1968. In Memphis, 60 miles away, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated the previous evening. Based in Brownsville, Bravo Company, 230th Signal Battalion, Tennessee National Guard, had been activated in the immediate aftermath of Dr. King’s murder and had been deployed to Memphis. In conjunction with the Memorial Tribute, a second interview was recorded with two Brownsville residents who had been sent to Memphis with Bravo Company during the night of April 4, 1968. This two-hour interview, "Brownsville Boys of Company B. Meanwhile...Back on the Home Front," is also accessible to the public through the Project website.
With respect to the educational mission of the Norman Lane Jr. Memorial Project, with support from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation – and through several very generous individual contributions – we organized and hosted a one-day public lecture/discussion conference on April 16, 2016, at Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington, VA – the 2016 Conference at VMI. The Conference featured veterans who served with the US Marine Corps in Vietnam, primarily as junior officers over 1967-1968. Along with the Conference Co-Director, Dan Moore, five additional Marine Corps veterans helped the audience address three thematic questions:
1. How did these Marines – while serving in Vietnam – communicate with their families and friends on what the Vietnam War experience was like?
2. What did these same Marines think of how the American public – including their families and friends – perceived the war and their efforts in it?
3. How did all of this change after the February, 1968, Tet Offensive – and its attendant media coverage?
Among the six Marine Corps veterans who spoke at the Conference, two of the officers – LtGen. Frank Libutti, USMC (Retired), and Col. Andy Finlayson, USMC (Retired) – have played particularly distinguished roles in civilian life, and these two Vietnam veterans spoke during the morning session of the Conference. Acclaimed UPI war correspondent and author Joseph L. Galloway (We were Soldiers Once … and Young) added his perspective by speaking during the afternoon session of the Conference. Marian Faye Novak (author of Lonely Girls with Burning Eyes) added her personal perspective as the wife of a junior Marine Corps officer who served in Vietnam over 1967-1968, and two noted humanities scholars (Prof. George Herring, University of Kentucky, and Prof. Joseph Thomas, US Naval Academy) brought special expertise in the history of the Vietnam War, US foreign relations post-1945, and the Cold War. The entire Conference was made available to the public live, via video streaming, and it was recorded to allow free access from the Project website.
As Chair of the Project, I maintain an e-mail list of over 400 names which includes a large number of Vietnam veterans, at least eight families of young men who were lost in Vietnam, and other Project supporters. Approximately once every two months, I share a creative nonfiction essay with the group, researched and written about either a Haywood County man who was lost in Vietnam (there were thirteen, over the period November 17, 1965-August 17, 1970), or another young man who served in Vietnam. I have also shared special essays on my own family members, some of whom were lost in World War II, and about other friends they had, who did not make it back from Italy over 1944-1945. All of these essays have recently been compiled in a WordPress website, which is freely accessible to the public. The connection between this activity and the Norman Lane Jr. Memorial Project is to further define the topics of war and military service, in order that the sacrifices made by these soldiers, airmen, Marines, and Corpsmen – and especially, their families back home – are never forgotten. By providing detail to each man’s service, whether in Italy in 1944 or in Vietnam in 1968, the goal is to complement the names – such as those engraved on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial – with the personal stories of those lives and those war experiences.
On Saturday morning, July 16, 2016, the new memorial plaque commemorating the life and service of 1stLt. Norman Lane Jr., USMC, was dedicated at Tabernacle Cemetery, six miles outside his adopted hometown of Brownsville, Tennessee. The refurbished plaque that remembers the life and service of Norman's uncle, T/Sgt. Marion Thornton Jr., USAAF, first dedicated in 1958, was included in the ceremony. August, 2016, represents the sixtieth anniversary of the original dedication of the cemetery gates, which were built in Marion Jr.'s memory – it also represents the fiftieth anniversary of the month that twenty-five-year-old Norman Lane Jr. reported to Marine Corps Base Quantico for the 41st Officer Candidate Course. Photographs of the dedication ceremony, provided by Vietnam-era Army veteran Rick Currie, can be viewed below.
A PDF version of the handout that was shared at the ceremony can be downloaded as well.
With respect to the scientific mission of the Norman Lane Jr. Memorial Project, and with partial support from the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, we have reconstructed a detail map of Marine Corps battalion base area C-3, which was also known to Marines in Vietnam as Cam Lo Artillery Position or Cam Lo Hill. A PDF version of the poster on this project that was presented at the 2016 Conference at VMI can be downloaded here. The first suggestion by then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara of a mined, wire barrier stretching across northern South Vietnam was made in April, 1966, the month that Norman Lane enlisted with the Marine Corps. As is documented in official Marine Corps histories, the project was controversial, unpopular, expensive, ineffective, wasteful, and not only dangerous but deadly. Nonetheless, the timeline for its morphogenesis – from "McNamara Line" (April, 1966), to "Strongpoint Obstacle System" (SPOS; December, 1966), to "Project Dye Marker" (October, 1967) – and implementation provides a historical parallel to Norman Lane's Marine Corps experience. In addition to their direct and controversial relevance to the history of the Marine Corps in Vietnam, Lt. Lane served at two of the designated "battalion base areas," C-2 and C-3. Given the significance of C-3 in the history of the Marine Corps in Vietnam, the history of the McNamara Line, and the war experience of Lt. Lane, we were unable, even with the most capable assistance offered by the Archives Branch, Library of the Marine Corps, to locate a detail map of the layout for C-3. As a result, and with the invaluable assistance of several Vietnam Marines who served over 1967 and 1968, we have completed a project to reconstruct a map of C-3 from photographs, internet resources, and personal recollections of Marines who were there over 1967 and 1968. According to the Command Chronology for 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, for February, 1968, "The Battalion relocated [from Camp Carroll] on 17 February and assumed control of the Cam Lo Artillery Position (C-3) at YD142616 and the Cam Lo River Bridge (C-3A)." One day shy of six weeks later, at 2:05 p.m. local time on Friday, March 29, 1968, C-3 received six rounds of enemy mortar fire. 1stLt. Norman Edward Lane Jr. was killed in this attack.
This is our invitation to you—to join us on this journey—and to help us bring life to the stories that were interrupted, but not ended, 46-plus years ago. Thank you for your support.