If you have never been to the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, I recommend you make the trip, especially if you live in Oklahoma. You should go there to remember what happened there twenty-four years ago.
I do not need to go there to remember, though. Even after twenty-four years, my memory of that tragic day has not dulled. Even though the tragedy of that day did not touch me directly (as it did so many others for whom my heart still breaks), it did mark me permanently because of my involvement in the events at the Murrah Building that day and in days to come, on which I will write more later. Right now, I just want to share what I remember about that day, as it took shape for me personally.
On the morning of April 19th, 1995, twelve days after my twentieth birthday, I was enjoying crisp sunshine and a gentle breeze as I built concrete forms for a sidewalk on a street in south Oklahoma City, in a housing edition near the Lightning Creek drainage basin. (I was working for FlintCo Construction, on the crew that built the large concrete channel running from SW 89th to SW 86th, just under halfway between Penn and May.) However, the tranquility of the pleasant spring weather was soon disturbed. At 9:02, I was knelt down in the dirt, setting a string-line, when I heard a double-clap boom from the north, then felt a concussion, it seemed in the air and ground at the same time - a strange sensation. I stood up and looked in the direction of what I thought sounded like an explosion, but couldn't see anything, so I went back to work.
Within ten to fifteen minutes, I received a 911 page from my wife-at-the-time, and I raced to our yard to call her back, knowing there had to be a connection. She told me that there had been an explosion in downtown Oklahoma City, nearly twelve miles away, where her mother worked for Southwestern Bell, in a building north across the street from the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, which we soon learned had been bombed. Into a mass of panicking people, we went looking for her mom. After a frantic search in bumper-to-bumper traffic (in which I rear-ended someone while looking around), under the possible threat of another bomb and the warning of a forced evacuation, we finally found her walking out of the danger area with another woman. Her building was hit hard by the blast, but she was not seriously hurt.
At 4:30 that afternoon, I was back at our construction yard. A crew of us was set to go back downtown and into the Murrah Building to shore up the structure ahead of the firefighters going in for search-and-rescue. We parked on N. Hudson Ave., about half a block south and a block and a half west of the Murrah Building, which was on the south side of N.W. 5th, halfway between N. Harvey and N. Robinson, the north face having been bombed. We arrived at the same time as an Allied Steel crane, driven by a young reserve soldier who said to us, “Can you believe it boys? We are facing the enemy right here in our own front yard!” We did not want to believe it, but there was no denying it. We were standing under the dark cloud of terrorism, looking firsthand at the gory carnage of a terrorist attack.
As you can imagine, there was on ominous aura over the entire site. I was a little lightheaded looking into the raw, jagged, gaping face of the building, processing the sheer scope of the destruction, knowing that people had once been where nothing then was and that people right then were still inside dead, dying, and trying to survive. I was struck into a state of surreal and sad awe by the immensity of the destruction and devastation.
On a building across and a little up the street, I saw two very large vertical dark spots, side by side and each about three to four feet wide. I was later told that they were from two people that had been blown into the wall of the building. The blast and impact had vaporized and pulverized them into nothing but those blood stains on the wall.
As I walked in the dark among the many charred cars in the parking lot directly across the street, I do not know why I never thought to look inside their windows. If I had, I would have found the bodies of several people in several cars. They were found the next morning.
Late that night, we got word that we were not going into the building. If I understood correctly, the section they had wanted us working in was not deemed safe enough for us to enter at that time. We were told to head on home, and we would be called on if needed. I was called on again to be on the demolition crew. I will share some of my experience with that week-long work in the near future.
I remember that day very vividly, and I'm sure I always will. I remember it with emotion that is hard for me to express. But I know that it is good to remember. It is good to remember as part of our personal history. It is good to remember our vulnerability and mortality. It is good to remember the precious gift of life we still carry on twenty-four years later. It is good to remember the families still mourning the loss of their loved ones. It is good to remember the survivors still remembering the horror of their experience - as fresh now as it was then - some of them reminded by their scarred bodies. It is good to remember in prayer how they and we all still need the help, healing, and protection of Almighty God. It is good to remember to humble ourselves before Him, looking for and trusting in His sovereign goodness as we face real evil still intent on doing us horrific harm.
May God remember us in His mercy. May God bless us and keep us and make His face shine on us in the grace and truth He has given to us in His Son, Jesus Christ. In His ultimate triumph of His goodness over evil, here and around the world, to Him be the glory now and forever.
Let us aspire to understand the times and know what we
(1 Chronicles 12:32)