Twenty Years Ago Today, April 19, 1995…..Oklahoma City (Including Sam Presti and the “Oklahoma Standard”)
Twenty years ago today a significant event happened in my hometown of Oklahoma City. It was a life changer for me, for my family and friends, for my fellow Oklahomans, and for the country in general. The bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown OKC killed 168 fellow citizens and injured almost 700 more on that day of April 19, 1995. The most significant event in State history, and a most terrible happening this country would suffer between the World War of the 1940’s and the awful day of September 11th some six and a half years later, will always be in the DNA of Oklahomans everywhere. Domestic terrorism in the name of Timothy McVeigh was an evil set upon all of us. He and his action served notice that if we, as a country, believe we are safe from losing what we have as a people, sacrifice as described in the “Oklahoma Standard” is an action for all, a must, and not just in the Sooner State but nationwide. I will define the “Oklahoma Standard” further down in this article. Some want to downplay this Standard, and use the current state of problems that our State has to overcome, as an excuse to cause discourse on Oklahomans, but don’t let that disparage you or the Standard. No place in the world is perfect and if someone wants to tell you otherwise, they are lying.
Driving to work on that day twenty years ago, I was not a happy man, as I was going to be late for work. Diverting through traffic in downtown OKC to get to the School Administration building at Northwest 9th and Klein, the home of my employer, the Oklahoma City Public Schools, I skirted past the doomed Federal Building at approximately 8:06 am, a hour or so before the destruction of the facility by the fertilizer bomb. In the form of a Rider rental truck that Mr. McVeigh had parked in front of the building, some minutes after my passing, that bomb would make a significant moment in history. I have a approximate time I drove past the Murrah building as when I walked into the auditorium of the School Board I checked my watch to see how late I was, not looking at my boss as I found a seat. (Thank you John Butchee for not noticing my lateness). Doing the math later, I knew what time I passed the site. It would have been 8:06 am. If I had been 61 minutes later I would have been vaporized and I would have been one of the missing that day, for the week, until authorities would have put two and two together and figured out that I had been at the unlucky location at that unlucky time on that historic day. Sure, what ifs…….but you could say that about the 168 and the hundreds hurt at that moment of terror. I think about that often, especially when I pass the Memorial in downtown OKC. It is part of “my” insignificant story when I compare it with others of that day in OKC.
As one of the building leaders of the city schools I sat in the auditorium and listened to some director bloviate on some indifferent information. It was not Mr. Butchee as he never did that. At the moment of 9:07 am, April 19, 1995, the lights in the auditorium, about a mile from the Alfred P. Murrah building went dark. Less than a second later the hundred or so building leaders of the OKCPS schools heard a loud but dull thud with a physical feeling of some large ever encumbering pressure from the ceiling of the large room set down upon us. It was frightening and gave everyone in the room a sense that “you better think before you act” sensation. For a good second, probably two, no one in the room moved. Not a head, not a blink, nothing. Shocked by the sensation, finally and slowly, everyone, with delicacy, picked themselves up and walked out the room, out of the corridor and out the building’s side door to see what had happened. Did our administration building have an explosion? Did an airplane hit a house in the neighborhood? What happened?
As we looked around outside we could see a large smoke cloud form and rise from the downtown area. Still in bewilderment, we all new that something had happened but what we had not a clue what it was. The smoke rising above the city skyline was not good, that we knew. The beginning of a terrible day, week, month, year……..for OKC, Oklahoma, and the United States, was the result of that moment in time.
I will say that our Principals’ meeting on that day was over. Yet the TV broadcasters had not relayed what had happened It had just happened. No information on my car radio about what had happened as I sped away from the Administration Building. I made a conscious decision not to follow any inquisitive instincts and thank God I didn’t drive toward the downtown area. With some of my students at a track meet at another school, I made a b-line toward those kids, making calls on my cell, first to my school (everything was good and the school didn’t know what had happened-yes, the school shook) and then home where my wife told me that the blast rattled our home in Edmond, some fourteen miles away from the devastation. Driving north I could see that plate glass in store buildings as far as three miles from the bomb site had shattered and lay on various streets and avenues. To this day I think about what might have happened if I had gone to the bomb site, what I would have had to see, and the effects of what I would have had to endure seeing men, women, and especially the children, with their bloody torn up bodies being cared for. I can’t tell you exactly what would have followed in my psyche, but for a fact, I had friends that lost their way for what they saw that day, losing their marriages, their sanity, and their God. Some lost my friendship, not for what they did, but for what they became. And it was their decision, not mine. It was not just like a war zone, it was worse, as the people affected were not just indiscriminate human beings, but people that you lived with, broke bread with, went to the movies with, and went to church with. My church lost seven members that day, the most than any church in the metro. It could have been more.
Going to Mass that evening at St. John the Baptist Church in Edmond after the events of the day, I remember one of our members that survived the blast, walking into the church, with a smile on his face. With his little scratches on one side of his body visible, he was in shock from what he had encountered (he was one foot from falling eight stories downward from where he was sitting one moment after the explosion) and his comments were telling of his faith. “I am a blessed man today.” I truly never met a more happy man, with all that he had endured. Somewhere in our humanity, goodness always wins the day. For his example, I am truly gratefully. He is not a hero, not really special in reality. His being was, is, bigger than his existence on earth. Something that I cannot explain. I try not. Every time I see him at church during the past twenty years I contemplate his faith in God and how a man that went through something that most of us will never have to endure would have such a positive feeling toward his fellow man and God after going through hell-on-earth. Life is, learning from him, a gift from God, something that you should “thank God” for each and every day. Life on earth is not a given and you never know when it will be taken for the next step in the human experience, into the afterlife.
Every Oklahoman that was here in OKC on April 19, 1995 has a story about the event. My story is unique to me, but in the long of it, only significant to me. For those that come to OKC to visit, to watch a Thunder game, to vacation in the city (yes, OKC is not just a stopover place anymore), the Memorial is a must see. Yet, for me, I didn’t visit the Memorial for over ten years as it brought back negative memories. The Thunder team, every pre-season, make their visit to the Memorial, and any new team member is escorted to the Memorial within days after joining the organization. It is our personal Alamo, Trade Center, Arizona Battleship. And as the above mentioned are all American life changing sites. The Oklahoma City Memorial is also as life changing site. It signifies our victory over evil, which can never be taken lightly, not that it has been. Our resolve over an act by a bad man with twisted beliefs, a reminder of something that is called the “Oklahoma Standard”, is encumbering positive human actions that benefit the whole of the city, the state, and hopefully, the country.
OKC Thunder GM Sam Presti has made a big deal of the “Oklahoma Standard.” He is a civic leader here and his support has been significant as he continues to make known of the Standard nationwide. The Standard as explained by the Oklahoma City National Memorial website is explained: April 19, 1995 altered the face of Oklahoma – and the nation – forever. But rather than bow to fear as the attackers intended, the community banded together. Cars became ambulances. Strangers became neighbors. People literally donated the shoes off their feet. Visiting rescue workers and journalists called this spirit of generosity the “Oklahoma Standard.” In this 20th Anniversary year, the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum is asking Oklahomans everywhere to recommit to the Oklahoma Standard.
Sam Presti is a transplanted Oklahoman, yet has embraced the Standard and has put forth effort for all of us to act upon. He is one of the “good guys” and so has been his organization, his employees, and his professional ball players. A statewide Oklahoma Standard campaign was initiated by Presti this spring. When Presti came here with the franchise he quickly recognized the citizens of OKC were different, and what we have here is hard to get. He says it’s that resiliency and kindness exhibited by Oklahomans that he’s tried to instill into the organization and his ball players.
“There were things happening in the community, in the people here, that were so authentic so genuine and were so selfless,” said Presti. “The franchise has to be an embodiment of the value systems that exist in the community and we’ve worked very hard to put that into place. It’s not very often that you have an opportunity to leave a mark on your society and leave a mark on your community that’s going to last much longer than the work itself,” Presti concluded.
I felt the need to write this article (May 2015). I have to always remember as much as I am an Oklahoman, with the pride of my state in mind, the bombing twenty-years ago was not about Oklahoma. It was about the United State of America, its people, and our way of life. Not everything in this country is perfect, yet we are in a place where if we don’t like what we see, what we encounter, what we endure, this nation has provided us a means to change it, hopefully for the betterment for all, in a most humanly way. I did not say lawful way as I believe in civil disobedience if needed. Dr. Martin Luther King is a good example of that exercise of the human spirit. I tend to believe we are not a selfish group, we all want improvement in our way of life. That goes for the rich man, the poor man, and the forgotten man. The good people that had to suffer because of a “forgotten man in Mr. McVeigh” can lay blame not only on his soul but the souls of everyone that molded his pitiful existence. It was a life that not only failed humanity, but in fact was the deed of a man who’s like soul that can still found walking this earth. Those that follow in the footsteps of Mr. McVeigh will continue of provide discourse for the world. Evil has and will continue to show that the “Oklahoma Standard is really just another name for the “American Standard”, one of service toward their fellow man. It is just too bad that we have many in this country that don’t believe in it. They would rather tear the country down. If you are one of those that want to wreck the country,to start anew, how far will you go with your agenda? Will you go as far as the “Timothy McVeigh Standard?” If you are, forget about it. You do not have a chance in hell to fulfill your ways. Yes, your evil ways.
There is forgiveness in my heart. Never do I want to seem bitter toward the families of the McVeigh’s or the Terry Nichols. To hold hate toward them is wrong. To hold evil in disdain is different. That fight will continue to the end of time.