These words represent the resolve of Oklahomans and others who witnessed the aftermath of the Murrah Federal Building bombing on April 19, 1995. We will never forget the human toll of terrorism and violence. We will never forget the dedicated work of those from all over the nation who participated in rescue and recovery efforts. Or the power of care and compassion to heal broken hearts and bodies.
I was a Quality Assurance Specialist for the American Red Cross National Testing Laboratory in Tulsa in 1995. On the morning of April 19, one of my coworkers, whose husband was a police officer, alerted us that a bombing had occurred about 95 miles west of us in Oklahoma City. “There was a child care center in the building,” she said. Someone managed to get a television into the office, and for the remainder of the morning we watched, horrified, as news and video came out of OKC. It wasn’t long before it was clear that this had been a deliberate, evil act. Though I wasn’t familiar with the Murrah Building specifically, I had been to Oklahoma City several times and recognized some of the landmarks. In addition, my coworkers and I all had children–the thought of someone deliberately murdering children was unimaginable. For weeks, I watched the unfolding story, but in time the horror receded. With the execution of Timothy McVeigh in 2001, there was some sense of closure for those of us not directly involved. Exactly three months later, foreign terrorists brought down the Twin Towers in New York City and broke the nation’s wounded heart again.
In the past 18 years, I’ve had several occasions to visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial, ever since my husband began participating in the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon in 2000. The reflecting pool is calming, and true to its purpose of inviting reflection. At each end of the pool is a doorway inscribed with the times surrounding the explosion just after 9 am on that ordinary spring morning. On the lawn sit 168 chairs, each inscribed with the name of a victim of the bombing. We have walked among the chairs several times and have read names, which now seem as familiar to me as acquaintances. My husband ran his first marathon there in honor of one victim he never met: John Youngblood, who was my husband’s age at the time and the last victim to die of injuries sustained in the blast. Each time we visit, my husband searches for John’s chair in order to remember him and his family.
Yesterday we visited the memorial again, but this time, we also toured the adjacent museum. It was a moving tribute to the victims, survivors, and emergency workers who were affected by the bombing. What struck me most profoundly were the stories. I had seen photographs of many of the people involved, maybe the same photos included in the museum collection. There is something more deeply affecting when those photographs are connected to videos, stories, and personal effects. Each of the people highlighted in the museum exhibits is–or was–loved by someone, not because of what they’ve done or how they died, but because of who they are.
I will never forget the horror I felt when I first watched television coverage of the bombing aftermath with my coworkers on April 19, 1995. I will never forget how my heart ached for the loss of 168 lives. I won’t forget the tremendous sacrifices of the emergency responders and those who supported them. And this is the lesson for me in the Oklahoma City Memorial Museum: I will never forget how valuable every human life is.