Scores gather to break ground for Okla. City bombing memorial Gore, Reno among those present at a scene both haunting and hopeful

October 26, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

OKLAHOMA CITY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ARTICLE. — OKLAHOMA CITY -- Standing upon the flattened ground where a federal office building stood until a bombing more than three years ago, Vice President Al Gore broke ground yesterday on a memorial to the 168 people killed as well as the people who helped Oklahoma City's physical and spiritual rebuilding.

"Today we gather to seek the light, to find in this soil, nourished with a million tears, the harvest of God's healing grace," Gore said before he and about two dozen local, state and federal officials, as well as relatives of some who were killed, dug the first shovelfuls of dirt.

The Oklahoma City National Memorial, which is planned to include an empty chair for everyone who died, a reflecting pool and a National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism and Violence, is expected to open late next year. Former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, who is serving as national fund-raising chairman for the memorial, said officials have raised about $18 million of the $24.1 million needed to build the project.

The scene of the groundbreaking was haunting and hopeful. Still surrounding the 3 acres where the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building once stood were shells of other places devastated by the blast, including a YMCA and the main office of the Oklahoma City Journal-Record.

The temporary stage from which Gore, Attorney General Janet Reno, Gov. Frank Keating and other officials spoke was built near the spot where a Ryder rental truck was parked at 9: 02 a.m. April 19, 1995, when it disintegrated from the power of the bomb it carried.

Arlene Blanchard, who worked at the Army recruiting office in the Murrah building and spoke on behalf of the victims, said the day of the explosion would "burn hot in the hearts, minds, bodies and souls of many Americans across this nation."

Tragic reminders

There were other reminders of the tragedy, ones that symbolize the spirit of Oklahomans who have vowed not to let the worst act of domestic terrorism in the nation's history blunt the memories of those who died. A chain-link fence surrounding the site that came to life with cards, flowers and other condolences will become part of the memorial. So will a small elm tree nearby that survived the blast. Locals have named it the Survivor Tree.

Unmentioned by name through the ceremonies were the two men responsible for the bombing. One, Timothy J. McVeigh, was found guilty of conspiracy and murder in a federal trial last year in Denver and was sentenced to death; the other, Terry L. Nichols, was convicted of conspiracy and involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

But their acts provided Gore and Reno another opportunity to promote the federal government's efforts against terrorist activity. The budget signed last week included an increase of nearly $3 billion to combat terrorism, largely as a result of the recent bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania but also as a result of the bombing in Oklahoma City, Gore said.

'We will not be intimidated'

"We will not back down in the face of terrorism," Reno said. "We will carry on and do our duty to the country and the people we serve, and we will not be intimidated by terrorists."

After the speeches, Gore took a shovel and dug into the bomb site. He then handed the shovel to young Clint Seidl, who was in the second grade when his mother died in the bombing. She worked for the Secret Service, and Clint said he wants to do the same.

Gore said that those who would demean the work of federal workers should "come here and be silent and remember."

One after another, people grasped the shovel that Gore passed to them and, dressed in their Sunday best, tossed a chunk of soil into a pile.

Pub Date: 10/26/98

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