Thursday marked the 23rd memorial service for the 168 killed in the 1995 Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City. Of those, 19 were small children.
There are certain rituals of the service that people in attendance have grown to expect: bagpipes are played, remembrance speeches given and the names of all 168 victims are read often by surviving family members.
But there was a unique dynamic this year.
It was David Holt’s first bombing memorial service as newly-sworn mayor of Oklahoma City.
And, it was Mary Fallin’s last one as governor of Oklahoma.
“The way it has affected my political life has been to always remind me of the natural outcome when you dehumanize your political opponent and those you disagree with,” Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt told Free Press after the ceremony.
“So, I try to correct people even when their dehumanization is in its embryonic stages and the last thing on their mind is that it will end in a terrorist attack,” Holt told us.
“But I try to remind them that those words create an environment where things like this ultimately occur.”
During the service, he spoke to the crowd that once again filled the ledges on the north side of the reflection pond about how important it is for his generation and coming generations to remember the lessons from that event.
“It is incumbent upon my generation and rising generations, especially if you live here in Oklahoma City, to carry on the lessons of April 19,” Holt said.
He talked about how important it is “…to understand empathy and compromise and that political violence is never the answer.”
In 1995, Mary Fallin was Lieutenant Governor. Frank Keating was governor.
Fallin has a long history of considerable political conservatism.
But over the years, she has not tried to diminish the horror and outrage of political violence that was committed by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, both right-wing anti-federal-government radicals.
Thursday was no different.
She described the act as an “unimaginable, shocking act of terrorism.”
“We lost 168 wonderful Oklahomans, including 19 small children in that attack and, of course, hundreds were also injured,” Fallin told the crowd.
“Even after 23 years, there are so many that are suffering, are hurt, and feel such a great sense of loss.”
And she acknowledged the core reality of the attack on the people of the metro.
“The Murrah Building bombing was meant to be an attack on our federal government, to be an attack on our nation. But, of course, we saw it as an attack on our Oklahoma family.”
Now adults, the children of husband and wife Calvin and Peola Battle still live in Oklahoma City and gather each year to place flowers on the memorial seats for their parents.
Most of those who died in the bombing were federal employees and thus targets for McVeigh and Nichols.
But, Calvin and Peola Battle were there for a 9 a.m. appointment at one of the many federal offices in the building and became victims of the violence, too.
We talked with the sisters orphaned by the Battle’s deaths.
At least one of them feels at peace, even though still sorrowful.
“I don’t know what it is, but I feel whole. I don’t know where the change happened. I don’t know how it happened. But, I feel now that I’m moving through it to the other side,” said LaDonna Battle-Leveritt.
“And, it’s not a sad place. It’s not a sad day. I still miss them. I still grieve their loss. But I grieve it more in remembrance and honor,” she said.
Another of the sisters, Janet Battle, was also hopeful about survival.
“It’s allowed me to see our kids grow up, to graduate from college, get married, have families of their own. We see that devastation doesn’t have to define who you are. You can overcome it.”