Archive for Thursday, August 23, 2001

Oklahoma City site touches viewer

Memorial brings home reality of bombing

August 23, 2001

Road trips are supposed to be fun, carefree occasions. That is what I had in mind after spending my summer working at the newspaper. My best friend traveled from Washington, D.C., to visit me and check out graduate schools in Kansas and Oklahoma.

After leaving Lawrence, we visited Old Town in Wichita and other historical sites and two major universities in Oklahoma. We were having a good time. But as soon as we drove into Oklahoma City, the memory of a national tragedy replaced the feeling of euphoria that had accompanied our end of summer excursion.

Like most Americans, we were aware of the horrible bombing that took place in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. We were both finishing our freshman year of high school when the Alfred Murrah Federal Building was bombed, killing 168 people.

Today, the site of the worst act of terrorism on American soil is the Oklahoma City National Memorial Center, a monument and educational museum.

However, I learned that watching something on the news is nothing like actually being at the site of the tragedy. I can't remember how many times I've seen national news clips of the victims' belongings on a chain fence, but I felt my heart go straight to my stomach when my friend and I walked by all of these items. Our moods completely changed. I'm not ashamed to write I fought back tears the entire tour of the museum.

Perhaps the most powerful symbol of the tragedy are two outside tours that show the minute before, 9:01, and the minute after, 9:03, the bombing. They bring home how the lives of ordinary Americans were so drastically changed in one minute. Once we stepped into the museum, that point was emphasized even further.

The museum is set up so that visitors feel like they were walking through a book. The first chapter was called "A Day Like Any Other" and it showed how Oklahoma City was just going through another normal day in the Heartland until it was shocked forever. Another chapter, titled "A Hearing" allows visitors to listen in on a woman's confirmation of a legal agreement in one of the federal building's offices. The mundane conservation suddenly, and tragically, becomes history. There is a loud noise with a lot of screaming.

The museum's creators did a great job making visitors understand the bombing lasting effects. When you are following a tragedy in another country or state from the security of your home, you feel bad for the people and wish you could do something to help. When you see the signs that people made to summons help, survivors' artifacts and the remains of buildings, you understand the suffering, mourning and bewilderment they endured.

As a 22-year-old, I recognize the Oklahoma City tragedy as a very important piece of history because I remember where I was and what I was doing that day. The memorial served as a reminder that Oklahoma City is an emotionally strong and tight-knit community that remade a site of a horrible event into a beautiful park and museum where all people are welcome to observe, mourn and remember.

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