West Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
U.S. Marine Corps
First LT, H&S Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines
03/29/1968, Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam
This is our common memorial tribute to Norman Lane Jr., brother, cousin, friend, teacher, scholar and Marine, who fell before the bull as an officer of H&S Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, in Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam, on an early spring day in 1968. Norman Jr. was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, in February 1941, but spent his youth in West Vancouver, B.C., where his father was a civil engineer. As a student in the accelerated program at West Vancouver High and debate team member, his younger sister Linda Farmer recalls, “Norman was so brilliant. He graduated from high school in three years. 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!”
Norman Jr. is also remembered as the very starry receiver for the West Van Tigercats football team from 1955-57. Friends there today still refer to him as “the ‘Crazy Legs’ Hirsch of the … League.” After two years at UBC, he transferred to Vanderbilt University in Nashville where he graduated in 1962. His close friend, Brownsville, Tennessee, family connection and classmate Lynne Mann recalls a required history course noted for very long, dry lectures. “Norman some days had some sort of pouch inside his shirt with a clear tube … — my first sip of white wine that early in the day.” From even earlier, August nights at the annual Taylor Kinfolks Camp Meeting near Brownsville, Lynne recalls going with groups to the ball field “just about every evening to receive Norman’s insight on — planets, stars, constellations, meteors, meteor showers and relevant mythology — the night sky.” After a couple of years in law school, Norman Jr. returned to Brownsville for the 1965-66 academic year to teach and assist with the freshman football team at Haywood High School. From Mack Thornton, Taylor family member and sophomore student in Norman Jr.’s English class, “Right, wrong or indifferent, Norman was more of a friend than a teacher. That’s the way he was with all students…. I think everyone recognized his brilliance and wit and couldn’t get enough of it…. I do remember that you never knew what to expect in class. 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’…. We all knew we were dealing with a totally different type of person, and he was intoxicating…. I can still see that slight squint and the push of his glasses back up to the top of his nose.”
As a 15 year old at Thanksgiving dinner with Norman Jr.’s grandparents (my Mom’s very close aunt and uncle) on November 23, 1967, I recall a comment by his grandfather, almost a lament for his Marine Corps grandson, posted in a dangerous place 9,000 miles away. As it turned out, that was the same day that Norman Jr. had saved a can of turkey and some leftover cranberry sauce for his Brownsville friend and brother, Allen Willyerd, of Kilo Company, 3/4 Marines, who was late getting back to camp from a Thanksgiving Day patrol into the DMZ. “I wanted you to have as good a meal today as we had,” Norman Jr. told Allen that late November afternoon 9,000 miles away, in 1967. Late in the afternoon of Thursday, April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was shot down while standing on the balcony outside his room at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, just 60 miles from Norman Jr.’s hometown of Brownsville. That same violent night, on a flight arriving at Memphis International Airport, lay the casket bearing the mortal remains of 1st Lt. Norman E. Lane Jr., to be transported to Brownsville Funeral Home, where two students from his sophomore English class, Mack Thornton and Rita English (Hathcock), were waiting to receive their friend and teacher.
Maybe Norman Jr. epitomized what we now, decades later, look back on as a true child of the “new generation of Americans,” empowered and emboldened by President Kennedy, choosing to do things “not because they are easy, but because they are hard,” a true child of the New Frontier. It is no small coincidence that the 1963 Convocation Address at Vanderbilt was given by President Kennedy:
“It will still pass on to the youth of our land the full meaning of their rights and their responsibilities. And it will still be teaching the truth — the truth that makes us free and will keep us free.”
Godspeed, Norman Jr.