They arrived early so they could get a place in the front row, but the blond man with the sunglasses had arrived even earlier. Mabel Speigle noticed him right away. He looked almost like a twin of her brother, Bud.

Ross Speigle didn't notice the man. But he noticed others - workmen setting up chairs and nailing up the flag, security men taking up positions on the rooftops.

He remembers thinking that maybe they expected some trouble that afternoon. But he quickly banished the thought. Here? In the Laurel Shopping Center?

Less than three hours later, George C. Wallace was walking toward his car when the Speigles and dozens around them shouted at the Alabama governor to come over and shake hands. The "Fightin' Judge" did. Suddenly, Arthur Herman Bremer reached between the Speigles and fired.

Ross Speigle grabbed Bremer's wrist, angling his gun downward. Then he bearhugged Bremer and rode him down. He bashed Bremer's head against the pavement a few times. And then a chaotic mob of policemen and specators somehow knocked him away.

Mable Speigle did little but scream. Her 68-year-old, 4-foot-8 mother, who had had a stroke recently, had been right beside her. Now she was somewhere in the surging crowd. Where was she? Was Ross shot? "And I remember thinking, 'Oh, I can't believe it's that nice-looking boy. Not the one who looks like Bud.'

For months after, people tried to call the Speigles heroes. Who knew how many others would have been shot if Ross Speigle had not reacted instinctively? And who knew if Bremer would have been convicted if Mabel Speigle had not been the only eyewitness to identify Bremer in court?

But to ask the Speigles today if they feel like heroes is to draw a simultaneous "no."

They have gotten 15 letters and dozens of phone calls praising their bravery. But Mrs. Speigle says she is mostly "nervous" at the memory of that day, "sorry I had to get involved." Her husband says he isn't "looking for any congratulations. I did what anyone would do."

Yet their chance involvement with a violent burst of history is hardly about to disappear.

Friends and neighbors around the Laurel apartment wher they have lived for 26 years constantly remind them of May 15, 1972. Calls still come occasionally from journalists and historians.

Both Speigles claim not to think about that day any more. But Mrs. Speigle says she is reminded of it every time Wallace's face flashes across the television.

She remembers the terror so vividly that she says she will never again attend a political rally. Her husband says he is sure that "if Gov. Wallace hadn't gotten fouled up, he'd be in there (the White House) today."

Looking back, it is the sheer violence of what happened that still disturbs the Speigles.

"After it happened," said Mrs. Speigle, 50, a switchboard operator at Bowie Race Course, "the crowds were shouting 'Kill him, let's kill him.' I've never seen anything like it."

Ross Speigle was swept up in that mood, he recalls, and as he pounded Bremer's head on the pavement, "it wouldn't have taken too much for me to do just that.

"He tried to get up a few times," said Speigle, 51, a crane operator for a Silver Spring construction company. "Every time, I'd let him have it again." Then Speigle grins at the memory."He didn't have too much to say."

After he was separated from Bremer, Speigle milled about for a few minutes, trying, he recalls, to decide whether to get involved any further. "I wasn't sure just what to do," Speigle said.

He found his wife and mother-in-law and told them to go home, where they would be safe. Then he decided "if I can help Wallace out, I'll help him out."

As he marched toward the nearest law enforcement man, Speigle recalls that he suddenly noticed Bremer's sunglasses lying on the pavement. One lens was smashed. Speigle picked them up and brought them along.

"The man asked me, 'How do you know they're his?' I told him: 'Because I knocked 'em off him,'" Speigle said.

The most surprising thing about the day, the Speigles agree today, is that Wallace survived. "I looked right at him (as he lay wounded)," Mrs. Speigle remembers. "He really looked like he was dead."

Bremer looked like something else again. "Those eyes," Mrs. Speigle said, as she described her day on the witness stand. "That determined look. I picked him out of the third row right away."

Unlike so many citizens who "get involved," the Speigles say they do not fear retaliation from Bremer, or from another anti-Wallace zealot. "I don't even know where Bremer is now," said Mrs. Speigle (he is in the Maryland State Penitentiary at Jessup).

What they do fear is what the incident says about America.

"What it tells me five years later," said Ross Speigle, "is taht this is not the America I used to know. You know, Gov. Wallace had just finished saying we've got to stop the crime in the streets. And then he gets shot. Isn't that something?"

"I don't think it'll ever stop," said Mrs. Speigle, as she leaned back on a sofa. "It could very easily happen today."