On April 19, 1995, I was on my way to work when the breaking news story came that there was some kind of explosion at the Morrow Federal Building in Oklahoma City. I lived in Pasco at the time and when I got off work I went to my sister Cathy’s place where her two year old daughter played with dolls and toys on the living room floor.
Cathy had the news of the attack on her TV and she was crying when they showed a toddler being pulled from where the daycare was located. “Why they had to do that?” She asked in sorrow and frustration. It was the first time I saw the aftermath of what happened. I stood there in shock, standing there amazed by the pure devastation and wondered if anyone survived.
That toddler was one of one hundred sixty-eight who died on that day. It’s an image, along with others and of course the subsequent events that followed that seared into my memory. We all assumed it was Islamic extremists at first, just as the three main journalists from the three main broadcast network news media admitted later.
I then remembered Waco and the Branch Davidian that occurred just two years prior and how many extremist groups had vowed revenge for what happened, blaming everything on over-reach from the United States government. It came as no surprise later when two individuals named Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were arrested for orchestrating and carrying out the attack.
On Sunday, Saundra took me to the National Memorial. I was curious and apprehensive at the same time. I wanted to see how the planners and curators presented the memorial and fearful my emotions would get the best of me. Even now I’m getting choked up.
Ron didn’t come with. We had brunch at Toby’s with her church recovery group and she explained to me as we drove over that day from Ronnie’s perspective. “He had just left to take a recruit to the airport not more than ten minutes before the explosion. He was a recruiter then and when he got back he had to help find the bodies and the survivors. He got PTSD from that and I think it accelerated his Alzheimer’s.”
It was a sunny and reasonably warm day, compared to what I’m used to when we parked her Sonata across the street from the National Memorial in the post office’s parking lot. The first thing we noticed were handprints done in plaster done from children at a grade school in Texas not long after the bombing. Off to the distance was the Survivor Tree. We then went inside. We walked onto an elevator that took us down and then we walked into a replica of a meeting that occurred across the street from the Morrow Federal Building concerning property disputes. The clock on the wall showed 9 o’clock.
A tape recording played the meeting’s minutes up and until the blast occurred. Another door opened and we became witnesses to the aftermath through the use of videos, still photographs and wreckage of cars, cinder blocks and masonry assembled in half-hazard fashion as if from an actual explosion.
I tried to hold in my emotions as we walked though the show case of destruction and horrific damage. I tried, but it took its toll on me. Saundra thought I was laughing at first, when she asked, “What’s so funny?”
“I’m not laughing,” I replied. She then saw the pained expression of my face and I’m sure the tears in my eyes. Satisfied that I wasn’t mocking this sacred ground, we continued on. We were almost through with the second floor when we saw the image of the firefighter handing over the toddler’s wasted body to an EMS medic. Someone had done a statue in honor of that rescuer and the baby in the form of an angel delivering her to Heaven.
“This is what got Cathy,” I choked to Saundra.
We finished and left the place feeling sad and enlightened. She went to her car. I pulled out my cellphone and took pictures of the lawn, the statues, the Survivor Tree, the pool and the church where the survivors took sanctuary on that fateful day.