Twenty-two years ago two white, American, Christian men introduced my state to center stage in a global news cycle. When I was in 8th grade, I walked into my government class to see that the teacher had wheeled in a TV and was watching the news. I asked in my teenage flippant manner, “What third world country is that?” He said Oklahoma City. I thought “Surely he was joking”. As the ticker scrolled across the screen I learned he was not. School that day was a blur. I had play rehearsal that afternoon for the Diary of Anne Frank. I cannot recall the actual rehearsal, just that every second I was not on stage I was in the back of the classroom huddled around another rollaway TV watching the footage of the rescue groups seeking survivors.
Over time I have often reflected on Oklahoma’s first major exposure to domestic terrorism and the global attention that came with it. Although the reason was tragic, one positive thing happened: it showed the world the Oklahoma I love. The oddly nice thing about living in Tornado Alley is that we are primed for the need to jump right in and work to help our neighbors. It’s a second-nature thing around these parts. The OKC Bombing was no exception. For once the world did not see a backwoods flyover state, they saw the compassion and fight in the Oklahoma Spirit.
The rescue workers who came to the OKC metro came from all over the country. There were so many support staff on hand in the days that followed working to care for the rescue teams, and those support staff members cared for the rescue teams who were so focused on the task at hand that they forgot to take care of themselves. To say that this horrific occurrence showed the very best parts of a state that I love is an understatement. One thing that this incident firmly planted in my mind is that when the US Navy oath of enlistment was rewritten in 1962 to add this line “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” they were on to something. Terror doesn’t have to start on foreign shores; it can grow right here, at home.
As photographers we are honored and burdened with the responsibility of preserving memories. Even those that we wish had never happened. Without these records, we lose a part of the lessons provided by the past. For me the OKC Bombing was the beginning of this lesson.