Twenty years after the nation’s worst domestic terror attack killed 168 people, dignitaries, including former President Bill Clinton, led a memorial honoring the dead and the vision of an Oklahoma City rising from the ashes. The restorative response of a city and state in shock after this tragedy was so significant that it has been officially branded the “Oklahoma Standard.”
In the days following the horrible event, Oklahoma civic leaders and citizens alike rallied and banded together to care for survivors and pick up the pieces. This unity was so ubiquitous that it literally revitalized the city through rebuilding and restoration. Kindergartners donated their milk money and workers donated their hard hats in an effort that reflects this true ‘Oklahoman’ standard of community.
This tragedy also united a reluctant nation to address the issue of terrorism, especially at the hands of an American citizen. With a rental truck loaded with 4,800 pounds of fertilizer parked in front of the Murrah building, Timothy McVeigh unleashed an explosion that would destroy one-third of the building and damage facilities within 16 surrounding blocks. An anti-government, militia-man, McVeigh would claim the attack was in response to the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, Texas that left over 80 members of the sect dead.
Timothy McVeigh was convicted of the Oklahoma City atrocity and executed in 2001 at a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. Fellow co-conspirator, Terry Nichols, is serving a life sentence. Until September 11, 2001, the Oklahoma City Bombing was the largest terror attack on American soil. It galvanized the nation toward an anti-terrorism strategy, as intelligence agencies like the FBI and CIA were retooled to address the threat. Federal buildings were renovated to provide extra protection against potential attacks including street barriers and enhanced security protocol.
This somber tribute to honor the 20-year anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing was attended by many officials and dignitaries who were serving at the time of the tragedy. Former President Clinton told the crowd that he spent his previous day, caring for his new grandchild to remind him of the preciousness of life and how tragically it was taken away that day. On that fateful day, 19 children died while being cared for in the federal employee day care center in the Murrah Building. Former Oklahoma Governor, Frank Keating, bemoaned the site as a place of “unspeakable horror” but praised the humanity it left behind. Kari Watson, director of the Oklahoma City National Memorial Foundation, proclaimed that although as a country, we might be polarized and divided; on the bottom line, “we are all Americans.” Watson manages the memorial facilities that are located in the footprint of where the Murrah building once stood in Oklahoma City.
A particularly touching moment in the event, was the reading of the names of the victims of that day’s tragedy. The names were read by surviving family members and poignantly enhanced by phrases like “our dad” and “my daughter and her unborn son.” The former president comforted a woman who struggled to say the words, “my baby.” The memorial features 168 empty chairs to commemorate each of the lost. On this day of tribute that marks the 20-year anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing, the chairs were filled with flowers, balloons and teddy bears to honor the memories of those who perished.
By Chris Marion