TWENTY YEARS LATER–THE MURRAH BUILDING BOMBING by Cheryl Pierson

 

 

Cheryln100000149781632_8303NOTE: It’s been twenty years. Hard to believe that twenty years have passed since that fateful day, when a homegrown terrorist snuffed out 168 lives, 19 of them children in the daycare at the Murrah Building. Yesterday there was a ceremony as there is, every year, at the bomb site. But I think it’s especially poignant this year for this milestone. Twenty years is a lifetime–time for a baby to grow to adulthood and strike out on their own; for grandchildren to be born and grow into the people they will become…but for 168 people, that future ended in a single moment. Please take a moment with me to remember, and reflect.

Where were you when you heard that Elvis had died?  Or John Lennon?  Where were you when you found out JFK had been assassinated? Where were you nineteen years ago on April 19, 1995?

Many people won’t remember the date, but they remember what happened.  This Saturday, April 19, is the anniversary of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building here in Oklahoma City.  Up to that date, it was the largest number of deaths on U.S. soil caused by a terrorist act.  That record was broken, of course, on September 11, 2001, with the destruction of the twin towers in New York City.

On the morning of April 19, 1995, I had gone to work.  My job at McDonald’s Corporate Offices was located several miles from the downtown area.  I was the “complaint person”—the one everyone called to report everything from an incorrect order to a pot hole in the drive-through on Forty-Ninth Street.  We had just received a call from a man who was attempting to sue McDonald’s for a scratch on his car’s paint job.  I’d transferred him to my supervisor, irritated at his persistence.
united-states-flag_2183_58326922[1]At 9:03, the building shook, and plaster fell from the ceiling onto my desk, and into my hair.  We were on the seventh floor of the building, but were not panicked about the safety of the structure.

Someone hooked up the small TV that was used for videos in conferences and we all made our way into the conference room.  The picture was grainy since the TV wasn’t on cable, but we were able to see the first reports as they began to come in.

In the beginning, the explosion was thought to be caused by natural gas.  Within the hour, though, those initial reports were negated and the public was told the truth.  Unbelievably, it had been some kind of bomb.

Another chilling fact was quickly disclosed.  Since no one was sure of why the federal building had been targeted, federal and state employees were being sent home from offices in other locations.

My husband worked for the Federal Aviation Administration at the time.  Normally, he would have been released.  But since he was a former Navy man with extensive military training, he and some of the others with a military background were asked to stay and help do a bomb sweep of the FAA training facility.

The entire facility was on lockdown.  This meant I couldn’t get on base to pick up our son, Casey, who attended the daycare there.
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Within the next hour, I received a phone call from my mother-in-law, Esta, in West Virginia.  You had to know Esta to know, when she put her mind to something, she got it done.  In a world gone crazy, with telephone circuits busy and no hope of getting through, she somehow managed without even having my direct number.  All she knew was that I worked at the corporate office for McDonald’s.

When I answered the phone on my desk, at the other end of the line was an operator that Esta had commandeered, explained what had happened, and talked into placing the call through as a person-to-person emergency call.  I assured the operator that I was Cheryl Pierson and thanked her for placing the call.  She sounded worried.  “How bad is it?” she asked.  “We aren’t sure,” I told her.  There was silence for a moment before she turned the call over to my mother-in-law.  “Take care, hon,” she said.  “We’re all praying for you.”  Her voice was gravelly with emotion.  That brought tears to my eyes, too.

I didn’t tell my mother-in-law that Gary was still at the FAA, unable to leave.  Or that Casey was there, and I couldn’t get on base to get him.  I promised to call her when we knew more.  I had to get Jessica from school.

BUILDING BOMBINGYou see, the fear was not knowing.  Not knowing, at that point, who had done it, or why?  How many people were involved?  Were they going to target other federal or state agencies…or schools?

I drove to my daughter’s elementary school.  The parking lot was full, even though it was not quite 11:30.  I asked Jessica if she knew what had happened and was shocked to find out they had had the children in the auditorium with the television on for a big part of the morning…until things got too graphic.

“Are Dad and Casey home yet?”

I put on my best smile.  “No, not yet.  They’ll be along shortly.”

An hour or so later, prayers were answered and Gary pulled into the driveway with Casey.  But our world was changed forever that day.

As the news coverage continued, it was a nightmare we dealt with every day for at least a year: The deaths, the images of loss that came from that day, and the anger.

But there was good that came from it, too.  Oklahomans showed the pioneer spirit of those who came before us and rose to the occasion.  Because of that tragedy in 1995, we learned the hard way that a terrorist can be home-grown, but we kept strong and showed the world where the bar of the “Oklahoma Standard” was set.  When 9/11 happened, many of our first responders and medical trauma professionals rushed immediately to New York City.  We were the only other state that had had anything remotely similar happen, and the experience to lend a hand.

Though, thankfully, no one in our family was hurt or killed in that tragedy of April 19, 1995, I don’t know anyone who didn’t know someone—however remotely—that it touched.
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I had to quit my job.  Casey began having nightmares, and believed his daycare was going to “blow up.”  When he built a Lego “daycare” with part of the wall gone and the flag lying in a heap of Lego bricks, I knew I needed to be home with him.  Eventually, his fears passed.

But the sadness will always remain for those who lost their lives in that senseless act of terrorism; for those since who have taken their own lives due to “survivor guilt;” for the end of the innocence we might have still harbored—the feeling that we were safe in the heartland of America.

As the years pass, we tend to forget.  But as painful as those memories are, we cannot afford to lose the hard-won lessons.
Rick Burgess sunset

 

 

 

 

 

RICK BURGESS PHOTOGRAPHY

A beautiful memorial museum stands on the site today.  There is a chain link fence surrounding part of the grounds where visitors come to leave remembrances and mementos.  In nineteen years, I still have not been able to bring myself to visit the museum.  I’m glad we have it, and that people come to pay their respects.  I don’t need to see it, though.  I lived it.  And I will never, ever forget.

A SIDE NOTE: My daughter, Jessica, has “the other side” from a child’s perspective on her blog, Caution to the Winds. This is a poignant accounting of her memories of what happened that day, when she was only 8 years old, from her now-adult self, remembering. I have to admit, it made me teary. If you are interested and get a chance, please take a look and leave a comment for her.

April 19

 

 

 

Cheryl Pierson
A native Oklahoman, I've been influenced by the west all my life. I love to write short stories and novels in the historical western and western romance genres, as well as contemporary romantic suspense! Check my Amazon author page to see my work: http://www.amazon.com/author/cherylpierson
I live in Oklahoma City with my husband of 37 years. I love to hear from readers and other authors--you can contact me here: fabkat_edit@yahoo.com
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16 Comments

  1. It just doesn’t seem like that long ago. Time sure moves fast. I just couldn’t imagine living through something like that.

    1. Hi Janine,

      I think, for me, at least–realizing how much it did affect the children–kids like mine who DIDN’T lose anyone there– just shows how impacted we all were by those events without even knowing it. As adults, we think we are processing it and of course, you couldn’t turn the tv on without having “special coverage”–we were inundated with it. And of course, we WANTED to know what was happening. But I never realized how much of that seeped into my kids’ lives, and believe me we were careful about not leaving the tv on all the time with that going on where they could see it.

      Cheryl

  2. I was at work in Tulsa. Word went through the company like wildfire. We just could not believe it. It is still hard to believe one of our own would do this.

    1. Goldie, I am with you. That someone of our own country would do this to fellow countrymen is unbelievable. I get this same feeling about all the school shootings. What is the purpose? People don’t remember the perpetrators’ names. They are soon forgotten. But the incident remains–the horrific murders they’ve committed–still, their names are forgotten, while the victims’ names are commemorated.
      Cheryl

  3. I was working as a nurse in a ob/gyn office,we didnt have a tv but heard about it from patients as they came in the office,,we turned on a radio and heard the horrible news we were just stunned and shocked and then go home and see all the horror of that day

    1. Vickie, that is one day I know none of us ever will forget. We know where we were and what we were doing. Horrible. Thanks for coming by!
      Cheryl

  4. Wow! I can’t believe it’s been 20 years…Thanks for posting this reminder.

    1. Amazing, isn’t it, Kimberly? It’s just amazing to see the young kids that were there that survived. I always remember the brother and sister, the Dennys–Rebecca and her brother were about 3 and 4 at the time, I think, and miraculously, both survived. Rebecca is graduating from college and getting married–and her brother is doing well, too. Saw them on tv yesterday. I guess that what brings it home–all those that were taken would be grown up now, too.
      Cheryl

  5. Hi Cheryl, great blog! I had to give a lot of thought whether to write this comment or not. So, alert, it’s kinda long but from my heart. Yesterday was really a hard day for me, too; as I thought back to 20 years ago … the happiness and the sadness all blended together. Every place I looked, every TV station I watched, all had the memories. Even our newspaper. Although we’re 4 hours away from the Murrah Building, it had a huge impact on my life. Cheryl, being there, I can only imagine how it effected you way beyond what you wrote.

    At the time I had left the legal field and was Customer Service Manger for Muzak’s five regional offices. One was OKC. We attended the annual food and beverage show in the Civic Center. I didn’t go that particular year because I had flown to North Carolina to be there in the delivery room when my first grandchild was born. I remember being so happy when Emma arrived and only a few hours later, I looked up at the TV screen in my daughter’s room and there was the explosion! Only too real to me because I had my boss and a couple of other people there at the time. It shook me to the bone. Because of their experience with installing huge commercial speaker units they went directly into the building and began helping people out, as well as getting some of the speaker units disconnected, so they wouldn’t fall. The stories they told when they returned were unreal. It wasn’t until this weekend when the newspaper did a huge article featuring my boss at that time about everything that went on that day, did I truly realize how much it affected him and the other guys. The food and bev show was turned into a place for the first responders to get some food and the other half was turned into a temporary morgue. Just reading in the paper how the glass rained down on their car and knowing how heroic they were, I discovered within myself that I was absorbed in my first grandbaby when they were experiencing such a tragic event. Don’t get me wrong, I know about it. We talked but reading details 20 years later, I wish I could have helped more. For two decades, one thing has gone through my head over and over … if I had gone like I always did I would have been wearing high heeled shoes and they would have parked even closer for my convenience. It’s been a long time since I sent out as many prayers as I did yesterday. I see my old boss from time to time, but I called him and his wife yesterday, just to say how much I love them. Many people don’t realize that folks who went through the OKC bombing and the 9/11 tragedy went through feelings and events much like our heroes who fight for our country. PTSD is real. Cheryl, I know this is long but I felt I had to write this and let people know how heroic the people of OKC and even as far away as Amarillo, were when this tragedy happened. I thank each and every hero who took their own lives in their hands to help others. Love to all, Phyliss

    1. Oh Phyliss…I’m crying. Literally sitting here crying at your heartfelt response to my blog, and I want to thank you for it. You are such a compassionate person. I believe everyone who was there and who saw these images on tv right after it happened suffered from PTSD and many still do. It is very real, and you don’t have to be in a war to have it! We know we were so blessed with the help and valor of MANY fellow Americans who were not from Oklahoma. In the following days we had help pouring in–and we SO appreciated it. Times like that prove that we are not so regionalized here in the US at all–we are still ALL Americans who love our country and our fellow Americans and want to do something to help. I believe that feeling of helplessness was what I will remember more than anything–not just for myself, but from what I heard from others in the 20 years since that day–“There was nothing we could do.” People drove from all over this country to get here to try to do something. It was just amazing.

      Like you, Phyliss, I thank all those “extra” heroes as well as the ones that were recognized–your boss included–who didn’t have to do what he did, but recognized the need and saw that it was taken care of.

      Thank you so much for your wonderful, thoughtful, from-the-heart comment. I love you to pieces. You are truly one of the best people I know.

      XOXOXO
      Cheryl

  6. I don’t remember where is was when Kennedy died, I was just a little girl. But I remember where I was when they landed on the moon. I was at my aunt’s cottage. I remember exactly where I was when Elvis died. I had just come home from work and my family told me the news.. I was so upset.. I remember turning on the TV to find out what happened in Oklahoma and being so devastated for all those moms and dads who lost their children. I remember crying for all the lost lives. But especially those innocent children. Sad so very sad.

    1. Kathleen–I was not quite 6 when Kennedy died, and probably the only reason I can remember that far back was because my granddad was in the hospital in Denison Texas after having a stroke and you can imagine how bored a child of 5 years old was. Especially, since all that was on tv in the waiting room was the Kennedy story and the funeral and so on.

      Yes, I’m with you. Those children that were lost just rip my heart out, even now. I can’t even imagine being one of the parents. I saw an interview with the mom of the two little brothers, Colton and Chase, and she has since had two children. Those two read their brothers’ names at the memorial service yesterday.

      Thanks for coming by.
      Cheryl

  7. Chery, I’m sorry I missed your blog yesterday. I just read it and I’m wiping away tears. I vividly remember that morning. I was home because of my MS. My husband got up before me so by the time I went into the living room the TV was on and it had just happened. Those images of that building and the rescuers trying to reach the survivors is burned into my memory. I’ll never forget the fireman who carried that small lifeless baby girl out in his arms. He had tears running down his face. It just shattered my heart that anyone would do this to children. It didn’t make sense and I don’t think Timothy McVeigh had one ounce of remorse for what he did.

    Tender hugs, Cheryl.

    1. Linda, the great thing about the internet is that you’re never late! Thanks so much for coming by and commenting. I saw years later where that fireman met the mother of the baby. A very tearful reunion–she had another child by then, I think, that was about the same age when her little Bailey died. And the scenes that greeted those first responders–they’ll never be able to forget and have to live with that the rest of their lives. So sad.

      You are a dear. Thanks so much for commenting, Linda.
      XOXOXO
      Cheryl

  8. I think that day was the beginning of the realization that as an open, free country, we have a certain vulnerability. There was very little anyone did to protect themselves from someone crazy or full of hatred and determined to cause destruction. Today, we look a thing a bit differently. We have learned to be a bit more aware of out surroundings and the behavior of others. As the Boston bombings showed, even that doesn’t always work. People like that exist in every country and group. Some are more organized and effective in their methods, but the end result is the same. We just must learn to blame the individuals responsible and not a whole group of people who are not responsible for the acts of a few. Our security has been shaken. I only hope it doesn’t change the nature of American society too much.

    Thank you, Phyliss, for sharing your experiences and thoughts of that day. Those with direct connections to an event can add an important viewpoint that others don’t have.

    I have spoken with people who have visited the Oklahoma Bombing Memorial. All were deeply touched by it.

  9. Hi Patricia,

    I agree with you. That was the time when we knew we were vulnerable–we’d learned that lesson before, with Pearl Harbor, but that wasn’t smack dab in the middle of America, like this was.

    I’m looking forward to an interview on the news tonight–Stephen Jones, McVeigh’s first attorney, will get a few minutes, and usually there’s a link to go see the rest of the interview–and that’s one I will definitely check out, because I’ve always wondered what he thought about having to defend McVeigh.

    Thanks so much for coming by Pat! I appreciate you comments, always!
    Cheryl

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