Wisconsin Historical Museum curator says Sterling Hall bombing is reminder of how far community has come

Curator Joe Kapler says we need to honor anniversaries like this to remember and reflect -- then acknowledge how far we've come
Recurring 10 p.m. news recording
Published: Aug. 24, 2020 at 8:44 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Fifty years ago today, four bombers made a violent statement against the U.S. government's involvement in the Vietnam war.

At 3:45 a.m. they set off a massive fertilizer bomb in an alley next to the University of Wisconsin’s Sterling Hall, killing 33-year-old postdoctoral researcher Robert Fassnacht.

While UW-Madison rebuilt Sterling Hall, the Wisconsin Historical Museum has collected several artifacts over the years from bombing. One of those is part of the engine that was inside the van that contained the bomb and blew up.

Speaking with the curator of the museum Joe Kapler, he said tangible items like the engine and the sign from the former army math research center bring people right back this day in 1970.

"Those folks who were here in Madison. whether they were students, sleeping near by or they were on the east side, the west side, whether they opposed the Vietnam war or not -- all those people when they see this engine fragment have that lump in the throat moment," said Kapler.

The Sterling Hall bombing was the first act of domestic terrorism in the U.S. The target of the bombing was the army math research center inside Sterling Hall however the center was barely touched in the explosion.

The research center was phased out and removed from UW-Madison by the end of 1970. The leader of the group -- Karl Armstrong -- was arrested and then released in 1980.

Kapler says we need to honor anniversaries like this to remember and reflect -- then acknowledge how far we've come.

“There are many who have passed since then and there are many younger folks who didn’t live through it they’ve maybe read about it and there’s many who may not have heard about it. and that’s why it’s our job on these anniversary moments to bring the story to the forefront so we certainly want to inform and educate,” Kapler said.

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