A day can turn in an instant. At 9:02 AM twenty years ago today, two men along with John Doe No.2 conspired to terrorize a nation. It was the deadliest attack on U.S. soil until the horror of the 9/11 attacks.
Where the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building once stood in Oklahoma City there is a reflection pond, a museum and an expansive lawn with 168 sculpted bronze chairs commemorating each of the victims of the bombing. As you look out over the field there are two sizes of chairs: the larger chairs are dedicated to the adults who perished that day and the smaller ones for the nineteen children.
In 2001, Timothy McVeigh was executed in a federal penitentiary for setting off the bomb. McVeigh's co-conspirator, Terry Nichols, was also convicted and is serving a life sentence.
The picture above is but one of the iconic images from that day. The Pulitzer Prize winning photo taken by AP photographer Charles H. Porter shows Oklahoma City Fire Captain Chris Fields carrying the lifeless body of one-year-old Baylee Almon. Baylee celebrated her first birthday the day before the bombing. She would have been 21 yesterday.
There was another photographer, Lester LaRue, standing just three feet away from Porter who snapped yet another photograph that centered on innocence lost that day. The now famous photo shows Sgt. John Avera carrying little Baylee out of the rubble and into the arms of Captain Fields.
All memorials face the impermanence of original memories. From the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., to the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum, a day will come when no one alive will have known first-hand any of the people whose engraved names they read.
How can one look upon such photographs and not be somehow changed. They evoke such emotion that I cannot find the words to express my sorrow. When will man’s inhumanity to man end?
Twenty years after the Oklahoma City bombing, words overlooking the memorial plaza speak of reverence for the past, but also of a mission that reaches beyond memory:
“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.”