April 19, 2012

17 Years Ago Today

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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.

5 Responses to 17 Years Ago Today

  1. Dear Jerry: I was working in the Office of Native American Programs in Chicago then and remember the day very plainly. Our office had just hosted a week long seminar featuring employees of HUD’s Indian Programs from all over and I remember there was a gentleman who was from OK City whose wife had just had a baby. He was so thrilled about it. Then on the day of the attack, I learned that he along with many Indian Program employees perished.
    It was a very sad time, indeed. I am in the LA office now and would like to get to Oklahoma City to see the memorial.

  2. My thoughts and prayers are that the Creator will continue to ease the sorrow and strengthen you all. It was my honor to have met you and to have seen the memorial for the first time just a month ago.

  3. Dear All: I recall early in my career having the opportunity to train for the single family assignment program in Texas. During that training, I had the privilege of meeting Jerry Hyden and other employees of the OKlahoma Office, Jerry at the time was not a Director and I only knew him by his first name. Years later when the bombing occurred I was glued to my television in hopes of seeing my HUD colleaques and wondered if they were safe. For years I felt sad that I did not know who perished and wondered often if Jerry was among them. I have been with HUD for 31 years now and as luck would have it, I went to training at the Oklahoma office in August, 2010 for REO Training. And I could not believe my eyes when Jerry appeared at the front of the room and gave a short speech. I wanted to jump out of my chair and give him a big hug. But I didn’t. I went to his office later and I was so happy to see him. At lunch I visited the Memorial and met one of the survivors. I am humbled and my heart still hurts when I think about all the those who were tragically lost. Let us never forget them.

  4. Thank you for sharing your reflection. I was working for a large commercial bank in Arizona at the time and I was deeply affected by the loss of American lives. At that time, no one knew of the Arizona connection to this “cowardly act of terrorism.” As that connection became clear, I began to focus on making sure that I was not contributing to an atmosphere of hate. My husband and I became more conscious of the words we selected in speech and in writing. We began to manage our demeanor more carefully, in order to present an open and listening posture. Today, I am a public service, working for the Southwest Office of Native American Programs. That fateful day, however, stays in my memory and my heart.

    My prayers are with those in our offices that experienced this loss directly. May you all continue to be blessed and may your memories be gently washed in the knowledge that goodness does triump over wrong; light does shine through darkness; the truth that we are One Nation Under God prevails.

  5. Dear Jerry:

    Thank you for sharing your experience of that fateful day. I remember listening to the new that the bombing had occurred. As with many of my collagues we were horrified about the news of the bombing. Then it hit home. One of our fellow HUD employees from the Office of Indian Programs in San Francisco recently transferred to the Oaklahoma Office. His father was very ill and he wanted to be closer to him and he had been in that office two weeks. I remember George as a very positive and happy person. It hurt to see such a good soul go before his time. However, as we all know time is the healer and we still go on. What I want folks to take away is that the human spirit can endure many things, we just have to make sure that we learn from it but do not let it over take our sprit. Thanks again for those words of wisdom.

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