Alfred Paul Murrah (1904-1975) might have been amused by the idea that Wikipedia considers him notable for something that happened twenty years after his death. For that matter, he might have been amused by the idea that he was considered notable at all. Even by Oklahoma standards, he came from humble beginnings, and they got humbler before they got better; at thirteen he ran away from his Tishomingo home and hopped various trains heading north and west, ending up as a farm laborer in Tuttle. This did not prevent Murrah from attending school, and by twenty-four he'd earned a law degree from OU and gone into private practice. At thirty-two, unusually young for that sort of thing, he was chosen by President Roosevelt for a spot on the US District Court; in 1940, FDR nominated him to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, where he served for thirty years, including eleven years as Chief Judge. This is perhaps exactly the sort of life you need to live to get your name pasted onto a Federal office building, as Murrah did in 1977, a year and a half after his death.
We all know what happened to that building, twenty years ago today. At 9:02 I was sitting in my office when a loud BOOM began shaking the windows. This wasn't entirely unexpected: April is the heart of Early Storm Season in these parts; storms, following the prevailing winds, generally track west to east; the only windows in my office faced west. So I shrugged it off until the news came on, at which time my jaw made a beeline for the floor.
Timothy McVeigh was arrested about 10:30 that morning, northbound on I-35 near Perry; he was pulled over for not displaying a proper license plate, and then detained for having a concealed weapon. At the time, no one had any idea that he'd had something to do with the carnage in Oklahoma City. And conspiracy theories ran rampant. To some extent, they still do, though McVeigh himself was scornful of them:
For those die-hard conspiracy theorists who will refuse to believe this, I turn the tables and say: Show me where I needed anyone else. Financing? Logistics? Specialized tech skills? Brainpower? Strategy? ... Show me where I needed a dark, mysterious "Mr. X"!
This statement, included in a letter written by McVeigh, was released on the morning of his execution; the doubters questioned the timing.
Still, we are not a people to dwell on our misfortunes: we clean up, and we move on, because that's the one thing we know will work for us. I admit to a certain degree of cynicism early on. From Vent #1 (yes, #1,) in April 1996:
The touchy-feely types prate on about the need for "healing", and maybe they're right, but I've noticed that if I sprain my ankle, dwelling on it won't make me feel any better or walk any faster.
They were right, and I was wrong. Bill Clinton, among the touchiest-feeliest guys out there, had said that seeing the news coverage wanted to make him put his fist through a television screen, and one of the first actions he did was to propose counseling for children, what with nineteen of the bombing victims having been children, mostly in a federal day-care center. On the 23rd, he gave a speech at the bombing site, and said this:
You have lost too much, but you have not lost everything. And you have certainly not lost America, for we will stand with you for as many tomorrows as it takes.
Good call, Mr. President.
Twenty years later, it seems that evil is on a roll; the idea of listening to the news at the office, for me at least, has become unthinkable. Not everyone has come to grips with the reality of that spring day in 1995. Trini told me last weekend that she'd never actually visited the National Memorial, because she didn't think she could stand it, and I don't blame her: my heart sinks when I drive too close to the site. At the other end of the spectrum, though, is Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti, who routinely sends all new Thunder players and staff to the Memorial:
"I do feel that any time our players or staff come through the memorial and museum, they leave with a much better understanding of the purpose of the Thunder. I think it helps bring things together as to why people are so passionate about this team, passionate about the organization. And there's certainly a sense of appreciation for the heritage of the city."
If you're curious: on the 19th of April, 1995, Sam Presti was a kid, maybe nineteen, from Concord, Massachusetts, site of one of the very first battles in the American Revolution, in 1775 on the 19th of April. Funny how these things work out.
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Copyright © 2015 by Charles G. Hill