I live in a small town, Dwight, Illinois, about 35 miles southwest of Joliet. It is a lovely place, about 4400 people, set in the midst of a sea of corn and soybeans. My wife and I moved here in 1985 and have been very happy. Soon after we moved to Dwight I joined the local Rotary Club. There I met Jim Oughton and his brother Richard Oughton. Both had served in WW2, Jim as a naval officer, and Dick as a marine fighter pilot. They were also the two richest men in town, the scions of a family that had been the wealthiest family in town for well over a century.
I quickly grew to like Jim and Dick. They were both intelligent, humorous and unassuming. I enjoyed bantering with them at the club and working with them on community projects. One day I was talking to Jim about his kids. He proudly and fondly recited to me how they were doing, and then a shadow came over his face. He told me how his daughter Diana had joined the Weather underground and died in an explosion in 1970 while she and two other weathermen were making bombs which they intended to set off at a dance that was to be held at Fort Dix. Jim attributed Diana’s involvement partially to her radical professors, partially to her own decision to embrace terrorism but mostly to the friend of President Obama, William Ayers, who was the boyfriend of Diana, and who got her involved with the weathermen. Other than feeling sorrow for the loss of Jim, I didn’t think much about it until years later when I read this story in the New York Times on September 11, 2001. ”I don’t regret setting bombs,” Bill Ayers said. ”I feel we didn’t do enough.” Mr. Ayers, who spent the 1970′s as a fugitive in the Weather Underground, was sitting in the kitchen of his big turn-of-the-19th-century stone house in the Hyde Park district of Chicago. “
Since that terrible day I have remembered the name of William Ayers and his connection to Dwight.
Lee Stranahan at Big Government has a brilliant article focusing on one of Diana’s comrades, murderous Katherine Boudin, now an adjunct professor at Columbia:
Appallingly, Kathy Boudin and her friend Diana Oughton took to calling themselves “The Fork.” The War Council began using a finger salute with each other, a reference to the fork that the Manson cultists had used on Sharon Tate and her unborn child.
After the Flint War Council in December, the Weather Bureau, recognizing that their lack of widespread popularity boded ill for building a mass movement, decided to form a secret guerrilla army immediately. They split up into affinity groups of four or five and worked at a manic pitch to assemble and construct bombs. Only about 75 were chosen for this mission, and the rest were purged, or dropped out of their own accord. […]
The New York cell contained two Weather leaders, Kathy Boudin and Cathlyn Wilkerson, as well as Diana, and two other active Weathermen, Terry Robbins and Ted Gold, and was located at the West 11th Street home of Cathlyn Wilkerson’s father, who was away at the time. After firebombing the home of the judge in the conspiracy trial of the Black Panther 21 – a group of militant Black Panthers charged with bombing a long list of targets including department stores and police stations – the Weatherman cell decided more dramatic and damaging action was needed. On March 2, one of the Weathermen purchased two 50-pound cases of dynamite in New Hampshire for a planned random bombing of buildings at Columbia University, the site of student uprisings in the spring of 1968. The 11th Street cell members debated whether to use antipersonnel bombs and the appropriateness of the proposed target. Kathy Boudin reportedly favored it.
A little before noon on March 6, 1970 one of the bombs was accidentally detonated. Cathy Wilkerson was in an upstairs bathroom and Boudin was in the shower when the explosion ripped through the historic townhouse.
As Cathy Wilkerson wrote later, “The whole townhouse rose up a foot or two, shattering bricks and splintering wooden beams, and then was transformed into dust and rubble, shuddering into a deep pit in which a ruptured gas main burst into flame.”
A fully nude Boudin and half-dressed Wilkerson ran into the street. Stunned next door neighbor Dustin Hoffman surveyed the destruction. Hoffman’s wife covered up Boudin and Henry Fonda’s ex-wife took the girls in.
Three members of the Weather Underground weren’t as lucky as Wilkerson and Boudin. Authorities found the “headless body of a young woman, missing both hands and a foot, and riddled with roofing nails.” That was Diana Oughton, Boudin’s fellow Bryn Mawr alumna. Two other terrorists were killed, Terry Robbins and Ted Gold; Robbins body was so completely demolished that he was only identified when the Weathermen announced his loss weeks later.
The pipe bombs were put together with nails and dynamite. They had been intended to be detonated at a dance at New Jersey’s Fort Dix for non-commissioned officers and their wives or girlfriends. One can only imagine the sickening horror if the bombs had been unleashed on their planned targets–working class NCOs and women–instead of the bomb makers themselves.
In the days leading up to the explosion, there were debates within the group about making bombs to be used against people; Kathy Boudin was one of the strongest advocates for using the nail bombs to injure or kill.