Monday, November 25, 2013

Patriotism and a Visit to the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum

A little story to lead into my experiencing the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum ....

The day was cool, a typical San Francisco almost-summer day, Flag Day, June Fourteenth.  The parade ground at the Presidio was shrouded in the automatic air-conditioning we call ‘fog.’  Daddy was stationed there, having recently returned from Japan, where he’d been assigned during a portion of the Korean War.

Mom, Jimmy and I drove to San Francisco from the 'ranch' in Campbell early that morning to join Daddy, the personnel stationed at the Presidio of San Francisco, and many military families in honoring our American flag and for what it stands.  An Army family, our lives revolved around Daddy’s posts.  Jimmy and I had both been born during the Second World War; we were ‘military brats.’  Mom, had traversed the United States several times with Jimmy and me, to meet Daddy during the periods he’d be assigned stateside during that horrendous time in our nation's history.  Jimmy and I were indoctrinated, from the beginning of our lives, regarding the importance of patriotism towards our Nation and respect for the flag that represents it.

A few years after the WWII, Daddy retired, his last assignment at Fort Ord, CA; he and Mom decided to stay in California (both were easterners) and he went to work for the United States Post Office in Campbell.  However, when the Korean War broke out two years later, Daddy felt honor-bound to head back to his military life and the service of his Country during that war.

There are two things that stand out in my memory of that Flag Day so long ago.  First, the 48-star flag that was unfurled for the commemorative ceremony was gigantic.  As the corps of hundreds of men, each holding a foot-wide section of the hem around the flag’s perimeter, backed up from a center point, our nation’s flag became recognizable in a most impressionistic manner.  It literally covered the entire parade ground at the Presidio of San Francisco, as I recollect.  For the audience, made up of families, friends and patriots, it was probably the most impressive sight we’d ever seen.

That is the outstanding memory in my memory bank that engendered the emotionalism I feel when exposed to any display of patriotism.  It has stayed with me throughout my life.  I think, directly related to the personality traits I inherited from my father, I cannot contain my emotions during the singing of the National Anthem at a football game, the marching of the standard bearers in a home-town parade or simply witnessing a good deed by a patriot in person, on TV or at the movies (newsreels of GIs giving candy to Italian children during the invasion of Italy in WWII, a fireman saving a kitten in a tree, etc.).  I suddenly feel a glitch in my throat, am immediately unable to speak above a whisper or contain the tears that force their way out of my eyes.  The emotion is overpowering, like nothing else I can describe.

Daddy succumbed to cancer on Christmas morning of 1973; he had told me days earlier that he was ready to die and I remember being happy for him, as well as relieved that his suffering was over.  I did not cry.  Yes, I was sad, but the feeling of relief was greater.  On the day of his military funeral, when the military honor guard folded the American Flag that had draped Daddy’s coffin and presented it to my mother, there sounded a 21-gun salute and a lone bugler playing “Taps.”  That’s when I broke down, overcome by pride in my father, his example for me, and his devotion to his country.

I share this part of my life with my family of origin as an introduction to the story of my wish to visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum.  Ever since I’d known about the design and construction of the Memorial, I’d promised myself that someday I’d visit.  So many changes and interruptions have occurred during the beginning of my North American RV adventure; I wasn’t sure exactly when I’d make it to Oklahoma City, but I knew that I would get there someday. 

I was not disappointed.  This was the week.  This was the visit ....

Remember, you can click on the photos to enlarge them

The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building opened in 1977, named after an Oklahoman Federal Court Justice.  It was located in downtown OK City surrounded by other government, religious, healthcare and business structures.  It was comprised of nine stories and housed several federal offices, including the Social Security Administration, the United States Secret Service,  the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the United States Drug Enforcement Agency and recruiting offices for the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force.  It consisted of nine stories and housed 577 federal employees.  Also located in the building was a Day Care Center for federal employees' children.

Oklahoma City is the largest city in the State, but, by large city standards it's not huge.  As I was nearing the Memorial I was surprised to find several parking spaces directly outside the Memorial.  Petunia waited for my visit to terminate in a space directly across the street from the view below...

The Memorial is located at the site of the bombing that occurred on April 19, 1995 at 9:02AM, in downtown Oklahoma CityThe outdoor memorial has been built on the footprint of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that was destroyed that day.  There are two of these "Gates of Time"

The inscription reads: 

We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever.
May all who leave here know the impact of violence.
May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope and serenity.

Before walking across the street to the Memorial itself I stopped on the corner near my car to take a look at this interesting statuary.  There was no signage describing the scene so I walked up the steps to see the front of the white  sculpture

The inscription at the statue's feet says it all.  I found out later that this sculpture had been a gift of St. Joseph's Catholic Church

From the Jesus Wept  sculpture I walked across the street to the Memorial itself.  Before I entered I stopped to take a couple of photographs of this chain-link fence.  The fence was built to provide a barrier for demolition of the remainder of the building.  People from all over the World come to this fence and leave mementos honoring the victims.  The city decided to leave this fence for perpetuity.  Many of the artifacts, pieces of clothing, toys, etc. have been placed there just recently.  It is a living memorial. 

 From the same area I took a shot towards the downtown area.  The Catholic church on the right was used as one of the triage areas moving injured people to the correct care facilities

In the distance is the Devon Tower, the tallest building (50 stories) in Oklahoma City and the 39th tallest building in the United States - opened in 2012

As you walk into the Memorial through the gate with the inscription, this is what you see.  The central pond has been emptied with guard stanchions around it as they're remodeling it.  But you look to the far end of this central area and a duplicate gate.  Above the aperture in "9:01,"  referring to the fact that on April 19, 1995 at 9:01AM, everything was normal for a working day:  offices were opening, meetings were commencing, children were getting settled in day care, etc.

Then, as you look at the inside of the gate you've just walked through, you notice the inscription, "9:03."  Between the two time references is 9:02 when the bomb exploded and nothing would ever be the same.  The Reflection Pool area is the actual footprint of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
Timothy McVeigh was a drifter; in the days before the bombing he 'crashed' at an apartment in the building you see behind the entrance Gate of Time, above.  His intention was to drive the truck into the underground parking lot and have it explode there.  He'd practiced driving into and parking in the garage four times in another truck and it worked "just fine."  But, the Ryder truck he rented and fitted with the bombing materials was too tall to get into the garage, so he decided to pull it up to the front of the Murrah building, park it as close as he could get, set the timing devices and quickly make his get- away.  He actually made a zig-zag escape, knowing that any straight-line escape might endanger his chances for  an injury-free getaway.

These are the Memorial Chairs, each inscribed with the name of one person who lost his life that morning.  Each chair has lighting in the glass base making an impressive sight at nighttime.  The chairs are arranged as to what floor of the nine-story building that victim was on at 9:02.  There are five chairs separated from the rest that name the five responders who also lost their lives in the aftermath of the explosion.
If you look closely at the photo above, you'll see a National Park Ranger, Skip, with whom I spent about a half hour.  He is a wealth of information and support for the Memorial.  On the back wall is a plaque with the names of all the survivors of the attack.

Most victims were on the first and second floors.  The Day Care Center was located on the 2nd floor.
There are orchards of trees all around the Memorial and Museum, all species having special significance.  The walkways are all constructed of rubble of the Murrah building

To the north of the Murrah building and above ground parking was the Journal Records Building.  It has been preserved, with its wounds, and is now the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum

Next to the Murrah building foot-pad is The Survivor Tree.  A promontory has been constructed showcasing this 80-year-old American Elm.  it was to be chopped down in order to retrieve materials that had lodged in its branches (to use as evidence); but the survivors and citizens quickly requested that it be preserved.
The Survivor Tree is a symbol of human resilience.  The inscription around the tree reads, "The spirit of this city and this nation will not be defeated; our deeply rooted faith sustains us."

The tree is healthy and is showing its colors at this period of the year - late Fall

The windows on this side of the museum have been bricked in with black bricks facing the Memorial

In front of the Museum is a Children's Play area.  See the painted hands children have left for display.  There's also a giant chalk board and colored chalk for kids to leave messages.

When I entered the Museum I was escorted to the 3rd Floor where the exhibit begins; you wend your way through the 3rd, 2nd and back to the 1st floor - the sequence of exhibits is in chronological order

A normal workday in Oklahoma City begins

There is a conference room set up with a recording of the beginning of a Water Board Meeting that commenced at 9 o'clock.  The secretary of the board is reading the minutes, when suddenly at 9:02 there is a loud explosion ......
This clock survived the explosion but stopped running at the exact moment of the blast

The Museum has many video broadcasts as they were recorded at the time

This photo was taken sometime in the days following the attack

There are many personal survivor stories.  This lady was a supervisor of several women, all of whom were lost.

One of the most moving stories was that of this Orthopedic Surgeon, working at a hospital about two miles from the scene.  He immediately went to the site to offer his help.  During that time, he amputated the leg of a young woman who was trapped under mountains of rubble.  His surgical instruments were a rope (tourniquet), a letter opener (scalpel) and finally his pocket knife when the letter opener broke.  There was no anesthesia but another rescuer had Versed, which has an amnesic quality.  The patient was to feel the pain at the time, but has no recollection of it.

Many of the displays are actual belongings of those killed and survivors - this one, watches

A sign posted by the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms

The Seal of the Alfred P. Murrah building

 The briefcase of a young woman killed

Shoes and clothing of victims 

Rooms of displays of the wreckage and carnage

Cities, States and Countries of the World sent flags as tribute to the people of Oklahoma City
The flag on the left is the County flag from Orange County, California.  The flags are displayed in all the stairwells of the Museum

Galleries of those lost

View of the Memorial and some of downtown from the Museum

It's taken me a while to be ready to put this post together and some time to do it.  The visit to Oklahoma City and the people who live there bring to mind, another time, the resilience, caring and patriotism of the people of the United States of America.  My personal visit brought back all those memories of the patriotism taught me by my parents - it has been a memorable time for me.


  1. What a beautiful, yet sobering post. Thank you so much for your hard work on this blog. Your parents did a great job raising a you and it shows. God Bless

    1. Thank you Nan .... It was a very moving experience.

  2. Boy, if that doesn't make you stop and think, and remember again how much we have to be thankful for, you'd better check your pulse. Thanks for all your work.

    1. It certainly made me stop and think; I'm sure the World Trade Center site (Ground Zero) would do the same. My dad didn't live to know about either of these devastating occurrences and I'm kind of glad.

  3. Very moving, thank you for sharing.

  4. Mom,
    Love, Jeff

    1. These are the moments and experiences I want to share with my kids and grandkids. Hope the girls check it out. Love you guys so much.

  5. The film Arranged: . . . was a great pick. I spent a month in Israel in the eighties. Check out the film "Departures."

    1. On this rainy morning in Livingston I'll do just that!

  6. It is very touching, and you did it good! I am glad that the weather was good because to get the full feel, you have to see the outside, to have time to stand there and absorb it. Pine Bluff, Arkansas where I worked was another possible target of this maniac....the Library I worked in was a block away...closer than that church was, to the Federal Building that they saw as a possible attack zone. Scary stuff for sure. One day I hope to see the 9/11 memorial in N.Y. where six years or so before the attack, friends and I attending New York for a Library conference road the subway over there to visit Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island...we came up right at the twin tower's station. Again, scary thoughts. Great post, thanks. --Dave

    1. We all know where we were and what we were doing during times of terrible happenings. I'd driven from East Hampton through New York and talked about the beautiful skyline with the World Trade Center on 9/9/01.

  7. Very well done Mary-Pat. It brought back lots of memories for Joe and me.

    1. What an experience, right? Hope all is well with you two and your RV plans. When do you plan on leaving? Has the retirement happened? Yippee!

  8. What a powerful post, Mary-Pat… I don't exactly know where my patriotism came from but I feel the same way when I see our Flag … the Star Spangled Banner being played … I always tear up a bit and what a wonderful tribute to your Dad… overcome with pride…

    The fireman and a kitten … exactly.

    1995? I couldn't remember the year… what a tragedy. just unimaginable. Jesus Wept. … I am now in full tears … The Survivor Tree… I'm glad to know about these memorials because I don't think I could visit. I came upon Gettysburg accidentally and it has stayed with me …

    This was too close to home. Oklahoma and Oklahoma City was next door. haven't thought of this tragedy in eons… I have family there with tales of they could and would have been there if they hadn't missed an appointment….

  9. That "What if?" is so powerful. The museum is set up so that you go through the experience as it came up by time that morning. At 9:01 the only person who knew something terrible was going to happen was Timothy McVeigh. So many people have stories to tell of how they were directly involved - or not. That's fate. It's not possible for us to try to figure out why or why not. Thanks for visiting; I love your comments.

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