Monday, April 13, 2009

We Will Never Forget

April 13, 2009 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Where do you start a story when you are not sure where to begin? Recently I traveled back to Oklahoma City with one primary goal in mind and that was to show my wife and grandson the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. They had both heard my many stories about working on the old Barkley Ranch in the Superstition Mountains. They have often ridden in the mountains with me learning about cowboy life and the mountains. I wanted to show them what I thought was a premiere presentation of the American West at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.

Many years ago I was involved with the induction of the first honoree to receive the Chester A. Reynold’s Award. This involvement brought me in close contact with National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum therefore increasing my desire to show the museum to my family.

The furthest thing from our mind at the time was the Oklahoma Memorial. However, our grandson wanted to visit the site where the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building once stood. His insistence changed the whole meaning of our trip to Oklahoma City. He had studied in school about this cowardly act of domestic terrorism that had occurred in the “Heartland of America” at 9:02 a.m. on April 19, 1995. The bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building claimed one hundred and sixty eight lives and injured more than 800 people that morning.

As we toured the grounds of the memorial we found ourselves in a twilight zone between what we remembered happening on April 19, 1995 and actually walking these sacred grounds reminding us of this day of terror in America’s Heartland. We walked on the same ground that heroes of the moment saved lives, searched for the living, and risked all to pull the injured from the collapsed building.

There were all kinds of heroes that day, trained and untrained. This was not just an attack against innocent people in this federal building, but an attack against all Americans.

Our grandson, Wesley, guided us around the site as if he had been there before. He pointed out it was more than reasonable for us to take the time and visit this special place in the heart of Oklahoma City to reflect, to respect and to remember. We certainly agreed with him once we were on the grounds of the memorial. The reflection pond was once the street in back of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

This street was where the bomb was placed before detonation. As we stood staring across the long reflection pool at the nine rows of bronze and glass chairs representing the lives of those who perished that day we soon realized how lucky we were to be alive and safe. We were all proud to be Americans. We were also proud of our fifteen year-old grandson who had been so impressed by the memorial and what it stood for.

On the morning of April 19, 1995, at 9:01 a.m., ordinary hard-working Americans were entering and exiting the lobby area of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building when a horrendous explosion brought down almost half of the nine story building, killing and injuring hundreds of people. The Oklahoma City Fire Department’s Emergency Response Team arrived on a scene of complete chaos and disaster.

The firemen said they were not the heroes they were just doing their job. The real heroes, they said, were the untrained ordinary citizens who were rescuing injured people from extremely dangerous environments immediately after the blast in the building. For the next twelve days rescuers and medical personnel worked around the clock to save lives.

Again, as we stood looking across the reflection pool and reminiscing we knew our lives had been changed forever. The most important message our family came away with was, “We will never forget.”

If you’re ever in Oklahoma City we would highly recommend you visit the Oklahoma National Memorial. The experience is overwhelming and reminds you how important it is to be an American and to never forget. It is important that we, as Americans, never forget this cowardly act of domestic terrorism.

Editor’s note:

The Oklahoma City National Memorial is the largest memorial of its kind in the United States. It honors the victims, survivors, rescuers, and all who were changed by the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995. The memorial is located in downtown Oklahoma City on the former site of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, which was destroyed in the bombing. This building was located on NW 5th Street between N. Robinson Avenue and N. Harvey Avenue.

The National Memorial Museum and the Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism are the two components which are housed in the old Journal Record Building on the north side of the memorial grounds.

The memorial was formally dedicated on April 19, 2000 - the fifth anniversary of the bombing; the museum was dedicated the following year on February 19.