Friday, May 01, 2009

Oklahoma City Bombing National Memorial & Museum: Not Forgotten, Not Forgiven

How could anyone forget those who died it the Oklahoma City Bombing? How could anyone forgive the men responsible for these needless deaths? I can only say that the men, women and children who died will not be forgotten. The men who executed this tragedy will not be forgiven. Not forgotten, not forgiven.

Flowers, photos and handwritten messages decorated the chairs – a chair for each victim - on the grounds of the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. These special decorations remained from the 14th Anniversary commemorative service on April 19, 2009, one day preceding Ed’s and my visit to one of America’s most sacred places.

This site commemorates those who were killed on April 19, 1995 in the Oklahoma City bombing. This act of terrorism killed 168 people, including 19 children. Some 700 people suffered injuries. Lives in this community forever changed.

I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing the moment of President Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas and the day the Twin Towers collapsed. Where was I when a bomb blast destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building? I can’t remember. I didn’t know anyone in Oklahoma. The event really didn’t affect me then, but now I feel visiting the place where the building once stood has changed me forever.

I will not forget how I felt as I walked quietly among the rows of chairs. I paused at one to read a letter written by the daughter of a victim. In this letter, the daughter told her deceased Mom that in the time passed since the tragedy, she and her siblings grew up, finished their educations, and enjoyed many successes. She went on to suggest to her Mom, that if she lived, she would be happy as a “Grandma” with small children giving joy to the family. Words in a letter intended for the Mom, a Mom who died in the rubble of the Oklahoma City Bombing 14 years past. Tears clouded my eyes as I read this emotional letter.

Tears fell when I flipped through laminated photos tied with a ribbon to another chair. The pictures showed an active young man with friends and family laughing on vacation perhaps. The bombing cut his life short too.

Small size chairs represent the 19 children. Teddy bears, tiny shoes, and photos sat on the chairs memorializing these tots. I squeezed my eyes tightly to stop the tears. Still the tears trickled down my cheeks.

I reached for a tissue from my pocket and dabbed by cheeks. A park ranger noticed and bowed his head as if to say, “It’s okay to cry, many do and should.” He’d seen this reaction many times.

I may not remember April 19, 1995, but I will always remember my visit 14-years and a day later to the Oklahoma City National Memorial.

Outside, the National Memorial is a place of quiet reflection. The Gates of Time frame the day. At 9:01 AM, a normal day begins in Oklahoma City. Parents drop children at day care, office workers sit at their desks, and the business day begins. One minute later, 9:02 AM, is the moment of destruction when everything came to a standstill. At 9:03 AM, lives are changed forever. The images of the times ripple surrealistically in the water of the shallow Reflecting Pool between the Gates of Time. The Field of Empty Chairs, arranged in nine rows, one for each floor of the Murrah Building, suggests where each person lost in the tragedy may have been working or visiting when the blast occurred. The Survivor Tree stands at the highest point on this memorial site, a lone survivor of the impact of the blast.

Inside the Memorial Museum, voices, images, and artifacts from survivors, family members and rescue workers give testament to the day of the bombing and subsequent events. Unlike the outside, the Museum offers visitors the history of the site. It depicts the sense of confusion and chaos that followed the blast. It portrays the challenges and bravery of the rescue workers. It renews faith in the spirit of a community that came together to recover from an unspeakable tragedy.

As a writer and former journalist, I lingered in the Special Exhibit Gallery “Reporting Terrorism.” Journalists on assignment at the scene in 1995 share their memories and reactions to the events. Editors comment on their ethical struggles in deciding about whether to share some of the graphic photos. In contrast, I quickly passed through the Gallery of Honor. Here, photos of each victim set in an illuminated display. Special keepsakes unique to each person – a Beanie Baby, a tiny shoe, a piece of jewelry… - rested by the photos. This left me feeling sad.

As we explored the exhibits of artifacts, murals, and computer kiosks, ever present and soft-spoken museum volunteers eagerly responded to our questions. We heard repeatedly from the volunteers that the book Simple Truth would thoroughly provide us with answers about the investigation into the Oklahoma City Bombing. We purchased this book in the Memorial Store.

I finished reading Simple Truth five weeks after our visit. At first, I put the book aside after reading the Prologue. These first thirty-one pages spoke of the personal tragedies of the Oklahoma City Bombing. Too tough to read, I thought. When I opened the book again several weeks later, I found the investigation captivating full of the FBI account of the minutes, days, and weeks following the bombing.

With a “Joe Friday, only the facts” style, the book builds a case against Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. No visit to the Memorial would be complete without reading this book about one of the largest criminal investigations in the history of the FBI. The book gives reasons why not to forgive McVeigh and Nichols - these misdirected men responsible for the tragedy of the April 19th bombing.

Beyond The Gates of Time just outside the National Memorial, a statue of Jesus stands. His hand covers his face in despair, an expression of pain that even He will suffer in contemplating the tragedy of the Oklahoma City Bombing, a tragedy that cannot be forgotten, an act that cannot be forgiven.

April 20, 2009

Outdoor Symbolic Memorial

Open 24-hours a day, 7-days a week

No Admission Fee

Memorial Museum

620 N. Harvey Avenue

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73102

Monday – Saturday 9 AM – 6 PM

Sunday 1 PM - 6 PM

Limited RV and bus parking is available a few blocks on the city street.

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