There are certain times of tragedy that always stand out in our memories. Obviously, the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks are one that is burnt into our collective memory. Other tragedies, such as the recent loss of 29 West Virginia miners, or the plane crash that killed 96 Polish government officials and dignitaries, or any of the earthquakes that reaped havoc on other countries in recent months, are remembered more by some than others, for various reasons.
One tragedy that has always stood out in my memory is the Oklahoma City bombing, which happened 15 years ago today. I was in college then, and I still vividly recall rolling out of bed and turning on my television, learning about the bombing and remaining glued to the news for several hours after that. I skipped my morning class and got a call from my grandmother, who wanted to talk about how frightening the world had become. (For historical context, a religious cult had released the deadly nerve gas Sarin on five trains in the Tokyo subway system a month earlier, and Americans were still obsessed with the daily doings of O.J. Simpson’s murder trial at that time.) What still sticks with me from that conversation is that my grandmother lived through the Great Depression and two world wars, but Timothy McVeigh’s act of domestic terrorism frightened her in a new way. And, as we all know, the threat of terrorism has only gotten worse since then.
Still, we mustn’t forget that first significant act of terrorism on mainland U.S. soil. Thus, if you ever find yourself in Oklahoma City, I urge you to visit the memorial site where 168 people lost their lives on April 19, 1995.
I recently visited the site, on a stop while driving out to Arizona for spring training last month. The memorial is somewhat basic, but also moving. The street where McVeigh parked an explosives-filled truck in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building is now closed and filled with water to provide visitors with a pool to reflect upon. On the east end of the memorial are the only remaining walls from the Murrah Building. On those walls are the inscribed names of about 600 survivors of the blast, many of whom were seriously injured.
Nearby sit 168 unadorned metal chairs, arranged in a pattern reflective of where everyone who died was in the building when the explosion took place. Across the pool from there is the so-called “Survivor Tree,” which you may recall withstood the full force of the explosion and still survived. This may seem strange, but I felt I had to touch the tree to really connect with that piece of history I remember watching segments about on television 15 years earlier.
I could describe the site more, but you should really check it out for yourself if you’re ever traveling through Oklahoma. Trust me, you won’t regret stopping to connect with a sad but important part of our country’s history.