Remembering the Oklahoma City bombing- Tuesday Travels

April 19  is the anniversary of the 1995 bombing  of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, which remains the deadliest domestic “homegrown” terrorist incident in the United States.

I lived there in the 1970s while in medical school and residency at the University of Oklahoma Medical Center and visit frequently. These are my memories of that day.

“I will never forget the Oklahoma City bombing”

On April 19, 1995 I was seeing patients in my family practice office  in Tulsa Oklahoma when my medical assistant  told me a bomb had exploded in Oklahoma City, 90 miles away. We didn’t have computers, smartphones or internet so I turned on a radio and heard news reports that shocked and saddened me.

A massive bomb had exploded at the Federal building in downtown Oklahoma City , something I thought only happened overseas. Who would bomb a building in Oklahoma?  we all asked ourselves. Several employees heard from friends or relatives who lived in or near OKC, as we call it; some said they felt their homes shake several miles away from the blast site.

Oklahoma mural
A mural representing Oklahoma culture decorates downtown Oklahoma City today

As I drove home from work that afternoon I encountered a traffic jam on a usually easy drive; I assumed a car wreck was  tying up traffic. Instead,  cars of people  trying to get into the local Red Cross blood donation facility created the backup; when I finally drove past I saw a long line of people waiting to enter.

I picked up my 10 year old son from school and realized the teachers had not told the students . I explained to him what had happened , as well as you can explain something so horrible to a child.

He looked at me and said, ” Mom, the 5th graders went to Oklahoma City today.” I remembered seeing the charter bus parked at the school that morning for the annual field trip to the science museum in OKC. Since I knew the museum was not downtown, I assured him the children from his school were safe.

Bricktown in Oklahoma City
Bricktown area of OKC with Cox Convention Center and Devon Energy Center tower behind
Chesapeake Arena
Chesapeake Arena, home of our popular Thunder Basketball team

They next morning as usual I turned on the television to watch the morning news while I dressed for work. I can’t believe now that I wondered if there would be any news of the bombing on national television; it had dominated our local news the evening before.

I turned to the Today show and found that it was broadcasting from OKC, as were all the major networks ,and devoted the entire broadcast to the bombing. I think that was my first inkling what a momentous event it was.

They interviewed a doctor from St Anthony Hospital, just down the street from the Murrah Building- he was one of my medical school professors, the first time someone I knew personally was on national television.

window at the museum
window from the museum overlooking outdoor memorial
Memorial pool and chairs
Field of Empty Chairs beside the Reflecting Pool – Each gold chair represents a deceased victim.

In the following days, weeks and months we learned all the details about the bombing- the perpetrators, the victims, the rescuers, the survivors.

168 Oklahomans lost their lives there that day, including 19 children.

My husband and I visited the site after the wreckage was imploded, when the site was fenced off.  The fence became a makeshift memorial, as people left mementos of all kinds- dolls, stuffed animals, photos, pictures, flowers, crafts, flags, shirts, letters.  We have visited again since the official memorial  and the museum were established on April 19, 2000.

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a long section of the original fence has been left intact, as well as parts of the original federal building wall.

sections of damaged wall sections of damaged wall

Until 9/11, it was the deadliest act of terrorism on United States soil.

OKC memorial and federal building in the distance
The West Gate of Time. the Reflecting Pool  and looking  northwest toward the new federal building in the distance

That day in Oklahoma City showed the best  in our state and our country as people, some with no training , risked their lives to help rescue people who were injured and trapped inside. Firefighters and police came from all over the United States to help. People donated food and first aid supplies.

children and adults visiting a wall decorated with handprints
Schools regularly bring students to visit the memorial and museum; these are visiting the children’s area
colorful hand painted tiles from children
Tiles hand painted by children were sent to the city as a show of support and sympathy.

I was proud to be an Oklahoman then and now, and still grieve for the lives we lost that day.

The Survivor Tree
The Survivor Tree, an American Elm, survived the blast

a video remembrance:

20 years later: Remembering Oklahoma City

"We search for the Truth" written on a wall.
On the wall of the Journal Record Building which was also damaged by the blast; the museum now occupies part of it.
statue of Christ with head bowed
statue of a grieving Christ, in the courtyard of a church across the street from the memorial

The Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum is privately funded. The memorial is free and open to the public. An admission is charged to tour the museum. According to the website-

“The Oklahoma City National Memorial Foundation is a private 501(c)(3) organization which owns and operates the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. The Foundation is the caretaker of both the Outdoor Symbolic Memorial and the Memorial Museum. It does not receive any annual operating funds from the federal, state or local government. Museum admissions, store sales, the Memorial Marathon, private fundraising and earnings from an endowment allow the Memorial and Museum to be self-sustaining.”

Thank you for joining me to remember and honor those injured and killed in the Murrah Building and the heroes who rescued them.

                                               Dr. Aletha 

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