Thich Quang Duc
On June 11, 1963 I was about to finish 7th grade. I had 8th grade and imagined girlfriends on my mind. It was a Tuesday and the the afternoon paper would be light. My route done quickly enough to have time to play basketball on the side of my house with a few friends. The sun set that evening at 8:27. I don't remember that, of course, but it meant that I might have gone out after dinner despite it being a weekday. On June 11, 1963, John F Kennedy was President. November 22 164 days away. I don't know if the name Vietnam was familiar. Perhaps, but the Gulf of Tonkin was 418 days away. That would be the day that many more Americans would learn that name. Little did they realize that it would be 3,100 days before the signing of the Paris Peace Accord. What would they have thought had they known?
Vietnam was in turmoil. Ho Chi Min's northern forces faced a series of leaders in South Vietnam. Malcolm Wilde Browne was Associated Press's first permanent correspondent in South Vietnam when he arrived there in 1961. The large majority of South Vietnamese were Buddhist, but the current President, Ngo Dinh Diem, was Roman Catholic and had instituted repressive Buddhist policies. On May 8, 1963 South Vietnamese soldiers had opened fire on a group of Buddhists who were flying the Buddhist flag--a violation of a government ban. Nine were killed. Protests followed.
Thich Quang Duc
The evening of June 10, Browne and other correspondents received a message that something important would happen the next day. On June 11 Browne and a few other correspondents witnessed a peaceful protest with about 350 monks marching and carrying banners demanding religious equality. Among the monks was Thich Quang Duc, a senior leader who had helped establish many Buddhist temples. After the march had gone a few blocks, the monks formed a circle and Thich Quang Duc took the lotus position at the center. Another monk poured gasoline over Thich Quang Duc who moments later lighted a match and self-immolated.
In a letter he left, Thich Quang Duc wrote: Before closing my eyes and moving towards the vision of the Buddha, I respectfully plead to President Ngô Đình Diệm to take a mind of compassion towards the people of the nation and implement religious equality to maintain the strength of the homeland eternally. I call the venerables, reverends, members of the sangha and the lay Buddhists to organize in solidarity to make sacrifices to protect Buddhism. It took 15 hours over 9,000 miles of AP WirePhoto cable for Malcolm Browne's pictures to reach the USA.
Other Buddhist monks later did the same and inspired a few Americans to do the same in protest to the undeclared war. I was in 7th grade and had no idea what the next 3,100 days were bringing to Americans.