Terrorist to Some, Hero to Others

The lasagna was intended for a double birthday party. Instead, it was served at a wake. The birthdays were those of the Connor brothers: Joe, just turned nine, and Tom, just turned 11. Their mother Mary had made the lasagna for a joint celebration that evening at the Connor home in the northern suburbs of New Jersey.

On that day — January 24, 1975 — the boys’ father Frank “went off to work like he did every morning,” Joe Connor recalls, speaking 42 years later but sounding as if he were recounting an episode from only a week before. He remembers how, as usual, his father called upstairs: “Love you, guys.” They didn’t answer, an omission that meant nothing on this most ordinary of winter mornings.

Frank Connor, 33, was an assistant vice president at the Morgan Guaranty Trust in lower Manhattan, where his mother Margaret had once been a cleaning lady. That afternoon, he went to a business lunch at Fraunces Tavern, the handsome, cavernous Broad Street restaurant where, during the Revolutionary War, George Washington celebrated the expulsion of British troops from New York. Reconstructed and refurbished, Fraunces Tavern was now a popular gathering place for the Wall Street crowd.

At 1:22 p.m., as Connor and his colleagues were finishing lunch, a bomb consisting of five sticks of dynamite stuffed into a duffel bag tore through the restaurant, The New York Times reported that victims “were hurled from their tables in a confusion of screams and flying debris.”  It was the most deadly bombing in New York in 55 years (in 1920, an anarchist killed 38 on Wall Street). Of the four people killed, one was decapitated by the force of the blast.

That afternoon, Mary Connor received a phone call confirming that her husband was one of the victims.

As  emergency workers were sifting through the rubble in lower Manhattan, a caller to the Associated Press claimed responsibility for the attack. “This is FALN,” the caller said, using an acronym for the armed Puerto Rican independence group Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional, or the Armed Forces of National Liberation. The caller said there was a message from the bombers hidden in a phone booth near Fraunces Tavern. In that note, FALN took responsibility for the attack on the “reactionary corporate executives” at Fraunces Tavern.

Joe Connor has never stopped thinking about that day. “You can imagine what kind of scar that leaves on a person.”

Lately, he has been reliving  01/24/75, the memory triggered by events in the White House. As one of his last acts in office, President Obama granted clemency to Oscar López Rivera, an FALN leader some believe was responsible for the Fraunces Tavern bombing, despite the lack of direct evidence tying him to the attack. He’d been caught in 1981, after five years on the lam, convicted on “seditious conspiracy” charges and sentenced to a 55-year term. Two attempts to escape from the federal…

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