On this day November 2nd, 1965, Norman Morrison committed suicide by dousing himself with kerosene and setting himself on fire. At the age of 31, he immolated himself below the Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara's office at the Pentagon. He did this as a tribute to the life and death of the men, women, and children in Vietnam, and to protest the United States involvement in the war.

Norman Morrison was born on December 29th, 1933, in Erie, Pennsylvania He attended high school in New York and college in Ohio. There he majored in religion and received a bachelor's degree and History and Social Studies. In 1956, he attended the Western Theological Seminary, now known as the Pittsburgh Presbyterian Seminary, for one year. Then he went on to the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He traveled in Europe and the Middle East before returning to the Seminary where he received a Bachelor of Divinity degree. The same year he became a Quaker. After a short teaching stint in Charlotte, NC , he moved to Baltimore where he worked as an executive secretary for the Stony Run Meeting.

Shortly after moving there, Norman became involved in protesting the Vietnam war. At the time he wrote letters to representatives and lobbied in Washington. He also helped plan peace vigils and conferences while his wife stood by his side supporting him every step of the way. He was consumed with the horror and atrocities the impact of the war had on the Vietnamese and American soldiers, especially the innocent children. He spoke about it to his wife daily right up to the end. On November the 2nd he had read on article in the Stone's Weekly about a missionary priest Father Currien, who was devastated by the destruction of his parish in South Vietnam from aerial bombardment. This article explained what the priest had witnessed after a napalm bomb had exploded, and how women and children had been blown to bits. This touched Norman deeply, so that day he took his baby girl to the Pentagon and held her close before letting her go and taking his life. No one quite knows why he brought her along. Maybe to keep the lives of all children in his heart to give him the strength to carry out his mission. However, the child remained unharmed. The day after his death his wife received this letter and I quote:

"Dear est Anne, Please don t condemn me...For weeks, even months, I have been praying only that I be shown what I must do. This morning with no warning I was shown, as clearly as I was shown that Friday night in August 1955 that you would be my wife...at least I shall not plan to go without my child, as Abraham did. Know that I love thee but must act for the children in the priest s village. Norman"

Why did he do this? Maybe he was inspired by a Mahayana Buddhist monk named Thích Quâng Ðú′c who in 1960 had taken his own life in protest to the persecution of Buddhist monks from the South Vietnam's Ngô Ðinh Diêm administration. His immolation was captured by a photographer and the pictures brought worldwide attention to the actions of the regime. Or maybe his inspiration came from 82 year old Alice Herz, whose immolation that occurred in Detroit in protest to the Vietnam war was his deciding factor. Whatever the reason, he became a hero to the Vietnamese people. There his name was rendered Mo Ri Xon. Within less than a week a poet named Tô Hú′u wrote a poem in his honor addressing his daughter Emily. This is an excerpt from his poem quoted below:

"Emily, my darling!

The night is falling..

Tonight I cannot take you home!

After the flames have flared

Mummy will come and fetch you.

Will you hug her and kiss her

For me?

And tell her:

Daddy s gone gladly, don t be sad!"

Not only were poems written about him, but songs as well. North Vietnam name a street Hanoi after him. A commemorative stamp was issued in his honor. Buddhist tradition regards self immolation as the highest measure of one's conscience through suffering. In 1999, his wife and two remaining daughters returned to Vietnam and attending a memorial service held at Vietnamese-American Peace Park in Bac Giang. It was held in his honor. His daughter Christina wrote a poem about the touching moment at the Pagoda there, and they planted trees in his memory. In the United States, books, documentaries, even movies have been made about his sacrifice. His life and death touched the hearts of two nations.

Resources:

http://www.leinsdorf.com/political_suicide.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Morrison

http://www.mylaipeacepark.org/pdf/wop2.pdf

http://www.angelfire.com/nb/protest/morr.html