Last week I had the opportunity to speak with a group in Oklahoma City, OK. I always enjoy visiting this great American city for three reasons—the people are wonderful, the city is absolutely lovely, and the food is great! What more could you ask for!
Whenever I go, I try to stop by the Oklahoma City National Memorial—if only for a few minutes. I’d highly recommend that you visit too, if you ever get to that part of the country. It’s truly one of the most beautiful, and at the same time sorrowful places I’ve ever been.
I’m sure that you can remember where you were on the morning of April 19, 1995. Personally, I had just been promoted to Managing Partner with Brinker International a week before. Several of us were to celebrate that night at a restaurant in Buckhead called The Atlanta Fish Market. We did go there, but I can tell you that after the events of the day, our party was quite subdued.
As you approach the memorial, you will first see what’s called “The Fence.” Almost immediately after the bombing, people started leaving tokens of love and hope on a fence that was protecting the site of the Murrah Building. Today, there are more than 60,000 items on this fence. The sheer number of articles on this 200-foot section of fence brings emotion to anyone who sees it. Family members of those who were lost that day left many of these.
As you enter the memorial, your first sensation is that you are walking on sanctified ground. There is no other way to describe it. You can literally feel God’s presence as you walk onto the grounds. You can also feel the pain and sadness that I’m sure He still feels today. The feeling, quite literally, hits you as you walk through the gates. It’s a true dichotomy—it’s so beautiful now, but you also know that it was the scene of one of the most horrific events that ever happened on American soil.
The first thing you notice is the Reflecting Pool. It occupies what once was N.W. Fifth St. Here, a shallow depth of gently flowing water seems to help soothe the wounds of the terror that happened on that day.
Flanking the pool are two monumental gates called the Gates of Time. One is inscribed with the time 9:01, which symbolized life before the 9:02 blast and the innocence that we all felt at that time. The other gate is inscribed 9:03, the moment we were all changed forever due to the hatred of a small group of terrorists.
Next to the reflecting pool, where the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building used to stand, is the Field of Empty Chairs. Each one of the 168 chairs represents a life that was lost that day. There are 19 smaller chairs representing the 19 children under the age of six who were lost that morning. Quite frankly, it is very hard to walk by those chairs without shedding a tear or two over the senselessness of the act.
At the east end of the Field of Empty Chairs is the Survivor Wall. This is the only remaining wall of the Murrah Building. It is a reminder of those who survived the terrorist attack. Many of these folks suffered very serious injuries. There are over 600 names inscribed on salvaged pieces of granite from the Murrah Building lobby. Seeing that many names is simply overwhelming. You almost don’t want to look, but at the same time, I believe that it’s important to see this.
You may ask why am I writing about this today and showing you these pictures? I feel that it’s important to not forget a couple of things.
First, there are some extremely vicious people in this world who want nothing more than to take our country down. I understand that some in our government don’t want to call these people terrorists. Well—I will call them terrorists, because that’s what they are. No amount of political correctness will change that fact. These fanatics want us to fail and they hate everything the United States stands for.
My father came here as an immigrant from Ireland with his parents and two brothers. He built a wonderful life for himself. One of my fondest memories was a call I made to him on the 4th of July one year. He answered the phone, “Happy Birthday America!!!” He loved this country!
Hearing the love in his voice, I got choked up. He had no idea who was calling–this was before caller ID. But he wanted anyone who was calling to know what this country meant to him.
I couldn’t say a word, and hung up a few seconds later. There was a huge lump in my throat. It took me a couple of minutes to get my emotions under control and call him back. Reflecting on it now, I know why I got emotional that day.
I knew I loved America as much as he did!
I grew up in a land where we said the Pledge of Allegiance each morning to an American flag that hung in the classroom. We were allowed to pray for our country—at school. For some reason, these practices are no longer okay.
A small percentage of Americans think that we deserve to be attacked. Maybe they’ve forgotten what’s really at stake her. I’m thankful that they are the minority. But I’m also thankful that we live in a country that allows anyone to think any way they choose. We are free to voice our opinions! The blood of many paid for this freedom. That needs to be respected!
Without this freedom, I would not be allowed to write this blog. There are places on our planet where this would land me in prison.
So I’ll just close with this.
We are the greatest country on earth. Period! We are not a perfect country, and never will be, but personally, I’d never want to live anywhere else in the world. If we don’t defend our way of life, it will become nothing more than a distant memory.
I’m proud of my country, and I’m proud to call myself an American. And, quite frankly, I will never stop fighting for the values that America stands for. I respect the opinions of those who don’t share my beliefs and thank God for the fact that we can all express our opinions.
So Never Forget!
Never forget what’s at stake here…
(This was painted on the wall of an adjoining building by one of the rescue teams several days after the bombing.)