Rembering 9:02 AM, April 19, 1995 - Visiting the Oklahoma City National Memorial

 Dear Henry,

While I was in Oklahoma City, I made sure I saw the Oklahoma City National Memorial and the attached Museum. I have to say, it was an incredibly moving experience.

The Oklahoma City National Memorial remembers the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that occurred on April 19, 1995, when two men (who will remain nameless), with the help of two accomplices ( who will also remain anonymous), parked a rented moving truck filled with 4 800 lbs of homemade explosives. They did this to protest the FBI and ATF's handling of the Ruby Ridge and Waco standoffs. The bomb was devastating. The blast immediately collapsed a third of the building, killed 168, and injured almost 700 others. Because the building housed childcare facilities, 19 of those killed were children. 

It was a terrible few weeks for Oklahoma City, and the people of the area (and the rest of America, really) came together. Immediately following the blast, donations of shovels, ropes, hoists, helmets, flashlights, kneepads, and enough rain ponchos to tent the city began to arrive for search and rescue personnel. Local chefs, who at the time of the blast were participating in a trade show, started cooking and ultimately provided more than 20,000 meals for emergency personnel at the site. In addition, Oklahoma City residents donated more than 9,000 units of blood. I think it's important to remember that part of the story too.

There was no way of repairing the building after the explosion, and once all the people inside had gotten out, the building was razed.

It would take several years before the National Memorial was created, and initially, a bit of chain link fencing (which is still at the site)  collected memorial objects. Finally, in 1997, the design of architects Hans and Torrey Butzer and Sven Berg was unanimously chosen from a group of more than 600 submissions, and work on the Memorial began. It was dedicated by President Bill Clinton on April 19, 2000.

The Memorial was created in the footprint of the building and contains a reflecting pool flanked by two black entrances, one inscribed 9:01, the other 9:03. Alongside the pool sits 168 bronze and stone chairs, representing the empty seats at their families' table. A plaque containing the names of those who survived is attached to a bit of the wall that remained standing. Across the pool from the chairs stands the Survivor's Tree, an American Elm that was part of the original landscape and had survived both the initial blast and the subsequent demolition of the building. 

Next door to the Memorial is the Museum, which walks you through the blast and rescue efforts in a timeline fashion. While it describes the profiles of the bombers and their motives, far more time and space have been dedicated to the rescue efforts and the lives that ended that day. The Museum is very well done, and I was particularly touched by the Memorial inside, which contained a picture and personal object for every person lost.

Every year, on the anniversary of the bombing, the city has a memorial ceremony at the site, where the names are read and remembered. There is also a yearly fund-raising marathon.

The visit was a heartbreaking experience for me, and although I was teary the entire time, I wanted to see the whole thing. I think it is important to remind ourselves of events like this and to never lose sight of what was lost. I think it's also important to remember how many people came to help that day and to take heart in the knowledge that there are far more good people in the world than otherwise.

The outdoor portion of the Memorial is open 24 hours a day. The Museum is open Monday through Friday, 9-5, Saturdays, 9-6, and Sundays, 12-6. Admission is 15.00.

xoxo a.d. elliott


a.d. elliott is a wanderer, writer, and photographer currently living in Salem, Virginia. 

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