There are moments that define a person’s life. Marriages. Births. Deaths. World events. If we’re old enough, we remember where we were on November 22, 1963, when shots were fired in Dallas. I remember when the Berlin Wall was put up and when it was torn down. I remember when Iran took our embassy staff hostage, and when they returned home. Neil Diamond’s “They’re Coming to America” will forever define that moment for me.
April 3, 1974, my junior year at Centre College of Kentucky when an outbreak of supercell thunderstorms and tornadoes struck the region, all but devastating Brandenburg, Kentucky and Xenia, Ohio, with major damage in Louisville–places my classmates called home.
April 19, 1995. I worked part-time for Will Rogers World Airport Rescue/Fire Department, though I was off-duty that day. Just after 9:00 a.m. my Siberian husky, Micco, and my retired SAR Rottweiller, Babydoll, both turned to face the southeast, toward downtown Oklahoma City. Seconds later, the shock wave hit, rattling the heavy sliding glass patio doors and every window in the house. I thought it was a plane crash and immediately went into emergency mode, expecting my beeper to go off, even as I switched on local news. Five minutes later, I was in uniform, photographic gear in hand, in my car, and headed toward the massive column of black smoke billowing against the downtown skyline. I was notified enroute to report.
First reports suggested a natural gas explosion. Follow-ups mentioned a bomb. I drove into the scene as close as I could, parked out of the way, grabbed my gear and hiked in. There was no real command structure set up yet. It was 9:33 a.m. I did my job that day and the next and off and on for two weeks as I was needed. I shot rolls and rolls of film. Color. Black and white. Slides. Everything in my kit. I spoke to FBI agents, ATF agents, county deputies, city police, city fire.
I learned later that my father-in-law was scheduled to be in a meeting at the USDOT office in the Murrah building. The state’s transportation director stopped him as he was exiting the ODOT building to head downtown. They were still standing there talking when the bomb went off. His colleague, already present in the USDOT conference room, survived because he decided to sit on the side of the table that faced the windows. Everyone with their backs to the windows died that when part of the building was sheared off.
Even now, 20 years later conspiracy theories proliferate. I was there. I have my own theories and they don’t include cover ups by the FBI, CIA, White House, etc. etc. etc. ad nauseum. There are 197,000 hits on Google, with the search terms I used. Probably 196,900 of them detail these so-called conspiracies. Not even the wing-nuts can agree on one central theory. I know this because I was looking for a video to share, something that would give people an idea of what I saw that day. Yeah…never mind.
I, like so many others, have PTSD. I still did my joy, and continued to do my job both in the fire service, and then later in law enforcement. This doesn’t make me tough. It just means I’m determined. Most Aprils, now, I can pretty much ignore the day and go about my business. But the “big” anniversaries are a PITA. I don’t say this for sympathy. It is a fact of my life and I live with it, sometimes incorporating it into my characters as a way to “blow off steam.”
Once upon a time, I was the CISD (Critical Incident Stress Debrief) officer for my department. I sat and listened to my firefighters talk through their experiences. I took their memories to add to my own. Part of what the experts taught us back in those early days was to talk it out, or write about it. So this year, I needed to do just that. I don’t need to give a step-by-step timeline of that day. I need only say this:
On the east side of the memorial stands a wall with 9:02 etched into it. On the west side, stand a twin wall with 9:03 imprinted. Between the two–one minute, sixty seconds–lives a lifetime for 168 people, and countless more who’s existence was impacted by that moment in time. We never know when our personal April 19th will occur so take today to remind those you care about that you love them.
This video was made for the 15th anniversary by members of the congregation of a downtown church across the street to the southeast of the Murrah. It’s as close as I could come.
And by the way? I love you. Just sayin’….