After my group run (mentioned in my other post regarding yesterday's events) I had just enough time to drive downtown to the site of the National Memorial. Yesterday was the 14th anniversary of that terrible day when the federal building was bombed, killing 168 people. The bombing took place at 9:02 am and I knew that there was going to be a ceremony to remember the victims and wanted to attend.
The service started at 9:oo and at 9:02 there was 168 seconds of silence to honor the victims. At 9:05 the silence was broken by church bells from nearby St. Joseph's First Church and St. Paul's First Lutheran. The rest of the ceremony lasted for almost an hour and included a singing of the Star Spangled Banner (color guard provided by OKC Fire and Police Departments), scripture readings by people prominent in the civic and religious community, music and concluded with the reading of the 168 names.
13 different people took part in reading the names as they were read in groups based on what department they worked for or what floor they were presumed located on at the time of the bombing. The people reading the names were all either rescue workers, survivors or family members of those that passed away on April 19, 1995. One of the last groups of names was the children that were in the daycare. That is always the part that I find to be the most emotional. One of the name readers for that group was Bella Kok, a girl that was born after the bombing who read names, the final one being "my big sister Baylee Almon". Baylee was the one year old that was immortalized in the famous picture in which her lifeless body is being caried away from the building by a local fire fighter. Hard to believe that many of the children in that daycare would have been already driving on the local freeways or would be starting to think about things like driver's permits had it not been for the evil person that parked the rental truck on 5th Avenue that horrible morning. One other thing that stood out to me was how long it took to read the entire list of names. I remember at one point thinking "how many more names are there". Just one more prespective as to how tragic that day was.
After the ceremony, many family and friends started to make their way to the Field of Empty Chairs of which there are 168 bronze chairs, each with a name of one of the victims. People were placing flowers on the chairs of loved ones and tying them to the chairs with cable ties as it was very windy out. The hard thing was watching people place toys and stuffed animals at the chairs of the children. I can't imagine what all of these people must have gone through and imagine that April 19th is a difficult date every year.
I walked over to the field and kept looking at the chairs that didn't have anything on them and wondered what their stories were. If perhaps their family and friends had moved away from the area or if they just choose to remember the date in their own way. I'm sure coming back to the site every year is just too painful for some people. I'm sure those people represented in the chairs with no flowers are not forgotten but it was hard not to wonder about the individual stories when you see a chair with many flowers next to a chair with nothing. I had to remind myself that these aren't their grave sites and that the chairs and the location have different meanings to different people.
The wind made it physically uncomfortable to be outside watching the ceremony but it was something that I will never forget and am so glad I attended.
The picture above is of a family that was saying a group prayer around one of the child chairs. I have been inside the Memorial Museum a couple of times but seeing these people that were directly affected by the bombing is what really drives home how real the event was. The other picture is of 3 little kids that were posing for a picture in front of another child chair of someone that was either a relative or a family friend. I felt akward taking these pictures as I didn't want to be disrespectful knowing the meaning that this date holds for these people. There were a few members of the media snapping pictures of the kids so I just kind of snapped one at the same time.