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10th Anniversary of Bombing Observed

Cheney, Clinton Speak at Oklahoma City Gathering

By Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 20, 2005; Page A03

OKLAHOMA CITY, April 19 -- There was something very different about this anniversary, something less raw and painful, and something perhaps even uplifting. And that's the way it was intended.

More than 1,600 survivors, relatives of victims and rescue workers came together Tuesday to mark the 10th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, an attack that took 168 lives -- wives and husbands, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters.


Family members and friends of the victims of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing comfort each other at the Oklahoma City National Memorial. (Win Mcnamee -- Getty Images)

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Although there were ample tears and poignant memories, the morning ceremony at First United Methodist Church -- which had served as a morgue after the bombing -- embraced renewal, remembrance and the power of good over evil.

"All humanity can see you experienced bottomless cruelty and responded with heroism," Vice President Cheney told those gathered in the church. "Your strength was challenged, and you held firm. Your faith was tested, and it has not wavered."

The ceremony began just before 9 a.m., a few minutes before the exact moment a Ryder rental truck packed with explosives was detonated in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on that day in 1995, shattering dreams and families.

As is the custom, 168 seconds of silence was observed at 9:02, followed by remarks from Cheney, Bill Clinton, who was president at the time of the bombing, and former Oklahoma governor Frank A. Keating (R).

Clinton received a prolonged standing ovation, whistles and cheers. "It seems almost impossible that it's been a decade, doesn't it? The memories are still so clear," Clinton said. "Yet, by the grace of God, time takes its toll not only on youth and beauty, but also on tragedy. The tomorrows come almost against our will. And they bring healing and hope, new responsibilities and new possibilities."

The past and the future were particularly apparent when the children of the victims, many of whom are young adults now, shared the reading of the names of the dead -- including the names of their own parents.

About 40 survivors of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks made the trip, as did many of the rescue workers who descended on Oklahoma City from around the country to help 10 years ago.

Clinton joked about the "survivor tree" -- a frail elm left broken and charred by the bombing, but which is now flourishing. "Boy, that tree was ugly when I first saw it," he said to laughter. "But survive it did."

President Bush said in a statement that Oklahoma City "will always be one of those places in our national memory where the worst and the best both came to pass."

After the church service, hundreds of mourners with flowers, framed photographs and stuffed animals streamed across the street to the memorial park where the building once stood. There, 168 empty chairs in a permanent monument represent the lives lost.

Relatives of the dead, survivors and rescue workers hugged and wept and reminisced on the grass, sharing a bond forged by loss. "It's always difficult as each year comes because I come to know more families and understand their loss," said Diane Leonard, who lost her husband in the blast.

Many wore T-shirts or huge buttons bearing the faces of their loved ones -- items they were prohibited from wearing during the trials of Timothy J. McVeigh and Terry L. Nichols. McVeigh, who drove the truck and detonated the bomb, was executed for the crime; Nichols is serving a life sentence without the possibility of release.

Doris Jones hovered around the chair representing her daughter, Carrie Ann Lenz, who was pregnant at the time of the explosion. "I come here once a month. I talk to her and touch her chair," Jones said. She said her daughter's husband has since remarried. "I talked to him, and he said he was going to try to come . . . but it's hard," she said as her voice trailed off and her eyes filled with tears.

The event came in the middle of a long week of activities, including seminars, concerts and receptions. Many people said they felt good about having the opportunity to reunite with old friends and mark the moment. But, for others, it came with a price.

"It's always difficult as each year comes. It all brings back a lot of memories of what happened that day," said Roy Sells, who lost his wife. "You relive it like it was yesterday. But then, in a couple of weeks, it settles down and you try to go on with your life the best you can."


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