Oklahoma City | National Memorial

by Jim and Melanie

Before destruction – Wikimedia

We recently visited Oklahoma where our son is a pilot in training with the Air Force. On one of the days, we drove to Oklahoma City to visit the National Memorial to the 168 victims of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building. The bombing took place on April 19, 1995. The glass-fronted building formerly stood nine stories tall, faced north and aligned with NW 5th Street. Just before 9:00 that morning, a rental truck was parked by the bomber directly in front. He set a fuse and departed for safety and his getaway car parked nearby. At 9:02 the blast tore a gaping hole in the front of the building, killing 168 adults and children. Through a series of fortuitous events, he was arrested within two hours along I-35 north of the city for having no license plates. Evidence led to his conviction of the bombing.

News helicopter view soon after shows the terrible destruction. - AP Photo

News helicopter view soon after shows the terrible destruction. – AP Photo

The scene today is peaceful. It honors those who died and those who worked tirelessly to rescue the victims. The memorial had several beautiful parts honoring those people and the family, friends, and community members whose lives were changed in an instant.

The satellite view below gives an overall perspective. North is toward the top. The blue rectangle is the footprint of the original building. The street originally crossing in front of the building location has been closed. There are many small dark objects aligned in rows within the blue rectangle. Those are chairs honoring each of the victims in their last know location by floor.

Aerial

Click the image for a Google Map view of the site.

We entered the site from the intersection at the right in the image above. This large wall and inscription greeted us. By stepping through the doorway, we viewed the reflecting pool and a similar wall at the other end.

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The reflecting pool stands in the location of the former street. The pine trees are aligned with the front of the former Murrah building. The bomb exploded near the second tree.

Immediately to our right was a group of visitors. A park service ranger had just started describing to them the features of the memorial. We stayed nearby and listened to his story. He took time to explain the rationale for each part of the site design. He told of the timeline of events leading up to the bombing and the quick apprehension of the bomber within hours after. At no point did the ranger mention the bomber’s name. This memorial is not for him. It is for the victims and those whose lives were changed so suddenly.

Larger views of each image are available by clicking this gallery. Three of the wider panoramic images can be viewed full-sized by clicking a View Full Size link to the lower right of their screen.

The reflecting pool reflects us and our surroundings. In this place now, there is beauty, peace, and hope. We see the damage left by the bomb, but we remember that good people outnumber bad, that regrowth occurs when we are patient, and that peace is possible.

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12 thoughts on “Oklahoma City | National Memorial

  1. Jim Wheeler

    Very nice coverage of the Oklahoma City National Memorial, Jim. It is indeed beautifully and artistically done. That said, however, building a memorial to this kind of event gives me mixed feelings. On the negative side, it seems to me that a memorial ought to commemorate something positive, but what happened there was negative. It seems to amount to a collective grave stone for the individual lives that were lost. The 9/11 memorial seems similar to me. Are these more than expensive tourist destinations? Are there gift shops?

    In contrast, other national memorials commemorate the positive aspects of something. The Washington monument, for example, memorializes our first president and the various war memorials the contributions of those who sacrificed limb and life for their country.

    It is my impression that there has been an undesirable long-term trend in matters of honors and memorials over at least the last century, amounting to a dilution in the quality and intensity of respect. I will offer some examples.

    Lowering the nation’s flag to half-staff is now much more common, so much so that I’m often unsure of the reason for any particular flag on any given day.
    Military medals and service ribbons are much more numerous now than in times of yore. Sometimes there seems to be more than space available on members’ shoulders.
    Academic honors lists published in the papers often cover a page or more, rather than representing a top small percentage as my recollections seem to indicate. It sometimes leaves me feeling sorry for any kid who does not make the list.

    Does anyone else agree with me about this? I admit to uncertainty.

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    1. Jim in IA Post author

      I think I understand your point of view. I’ve seen it in as evidence in the examples you gave.

      I haven’t visited a lot of national memorials in my lifetime. Some of the most moving are in response to the most negative events in our history. The challenge is how to transform a terrible and horrendous act into a statement of respect and support for those whose lives were lost, their loved ones, and those who sacrificed life and limb toward rescue or recovery. As stated on the entry wall…’offer comfort, strength, peace, hope and serenity’.

      We read the plaques and memorials. We listened to the Ranger as he respectfully delivered his words to the visitors. He stressed the positive aspects of the memorial in all he said. At no time did he mention the names of McVeigh or others who did this. His message was that this memorial was to show respect for the most positive traits of humanity. I wish we had a transcript of his words. They were very moving and uplifting.

      It is a difficult thing to memorialize heroism and beauty in the face of such an ugly act. I feel they succeeded. We came away with positive feelings toward those impacted.

      Thank you for your comments, Jim.

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    2. Melanie McNeil

      My thoughts are below in my reply to Steve Schwartzman. In addition, the OKC memorial certainly does note the bad things that happened there. But the site specifically is designed to honor the recovery, as well. Thanks for taking a look.

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  2. Sheryl

    Several years ago I was in Oklahoma City, and visited this site while I was there. I think that you wonderfully described the memorial. I’m not sure how to balance remembering the people who were lost while not commemorating negative events–but I thought that the memorial was nicely done and had an appropriate balance.

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  3. Steve Schwartzman

    Your mention of I-35, which also passes through Austin, reminds me of two disasters that took place along its route in Texas. In 1997 an F5 tornado did great damage and killed 27 people in the little town of Jarrell. In 1913, in the town of West, a fertilizer plant exploded, causing lots of destruction and the deaths of 15 people. I mention those occurrences to raise a question: when should a disaster be memorialized? In the Oklahoma City case and the two I’ve mentioned, those who died were victims of circumstances that they had nothing to do with. Should we reserve memorials for people who were engaged in heroic or dangerous endeavors (for example the Challenger astronauts)? I’m not suggesting an answer, but I’m not aware that I’ve heard anyone ask the question, so it seemed worth raising.

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    1. Melanie McNeil

      I guess I would ask what is a memorial? It is something, tangible or intangible, done to remember something or someone of note. There are memorial services for people when they die, regardless of whether they were notable to anyone but friends or family. There are cemeteries full of memorials, a means to mark someone’s life, in the hopes they will be remembered. There are plaques and benches and trophy cases at every high school donated by the class of XXXX, a way to say “remember us! We were here, we mattered to the school, and we still do!” People create scrapbooks to remember vacations or school years or weddings. These are all memorials of a sort.

      My thinking about the idea, obviously, is pretty flexible. If a community thinks it is important to memorialize an event — a battle, an act of nature, a high school athletic championship — it’s okay with me. It is not for me to say that they shouldn’t have a tangible reminder of something notable in the life of their community.

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  4. melissabluefineart

    This is a beautiful, moving post Jim. Thank you for sharing it. I confess I also have mixed feelings about the proliferation of memorials but as you pointed out, this is also a memorial to rising again.
    Incidentally, I just finished reading “Cold Storage Alaska” by John Straley. The ability to forgive violence and get back up is eloquently expressed in this novel. As weapons become more dangerous, it seems to me that the ability to forgive is going to become increasingly important.

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    1. Jim in IA Post author

      Thank you. It was quite moving for us.

      I understand the mixed feelings you express. I wish we could gain more ability to reach common ground, averting the impulses to lash out violently. It seems an age old struggle of humanity. Today, we see so much more with our 24/7 presence of news and social media. I don’t think we need all that.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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