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Jerry Hyden, Field Office Director, Oklahoma City HUD Office
Today marks the 17th Anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, one of the deadliest acts of domestic terrorism on American soil. This cowardly act of terrorism killed 168 people, 19 of them children. Thirty-five of the victims were my friends and our co-workers.
While today I am the Field Office Director of the Oklahoma City Office, at the time of the bombing I was a loan specialist in the Tulsa, Oklahoma, HUD office. I can remember the morning of April 19 clearly. Someone stuck their head in my door and told me that the Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City had some type of explosion. I thought it must be something related to the boiler or something mechanical in nature. Since I had friends in the OKC office, I decided to call to see what was going on. I dialed the number and the phone rang and rang but no one answered. Finally someone brought in a television.
The news was far worse than anything I could have ever imagined. All that was left was a portion of the building. Along with the nation, we watched as emergency teams rescued people from the building as it went on all night and into the early morning hours. The reality that some of our employees did not make it out of the building began to sink in. I began to think about the people I knew that worked in the OKC field office and at that point I starting praying even harder for their safety.
Like everyone else, I wanted to help, to do anything that might make things easier for the employees who survived the bombing. Everyone in the Tulsa Office agreed that we had to take on the workload of the Oklahoma City Office and we did that within 72 hours of the bombing. I believe that simple act helped us to feel like we were doing something to help our Oklahoma City co-workers. It also brought the Tulsa office closer together.
In September of 1995, I accepted a branch chief position in the Oklahoma City Field Office. The employees had been back at work for a few months and I was excited for the opportunity to work with such a dedicated group of people. Honestly, it was a tough assignment. The employees were still struggling with their feelings in the aftermath of losing 35 of their coworkers. Each day I watched them get stronger. I am still in awe of the courage and determination they exhibited in making sure our work continued to get done despite the terrible toll the bombing had caused. I came to realize that my problems were small in nature when I thought about the range of emotions and feelings that my co-workers and the families of the employees who died must be dealing with.
Seventeen years later, there are still 21 people in the OKC field office who were there that terrible day. I believe we have all changed and will always have our own personal memories of April 19, 1995. I can tell you this: I have never in the past, and will never in the future, work with a more determined, courageous group of public servants than those in the Oklahoma City Field Office. It is a privilege and honor to work with them.
On this 17th anniversary, as I look out the window of my office, I am able to see the memorial across the street. This morning, as has been our tradition since the first anniversary, HUD employees will go over to the memorial and lay a rose on each of the 35 chairs with the names of our fallen employees. Those brave folks who were our friends, our co-workers; who gave a full measure of sacrifice for our country can never be forgotten. We will pray with their families and friends. The words on the entrance to the memorial still have deep meaning today:
We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever. May all who leave here know the impact of violence. May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope and serenity.
It was that same “Oklahoma Spirit” that helped to rebuild the city. It helped to build a beautiful memorial; one that shows good can triumph over evil.