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Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial 10th Anniversary

April 20, 2005
Speech

Mr. COLE of Oklahoma.  Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the gentleman from Texas for yielding me time, and I certainly want to thank the gentleman from Oklahoma (Mr. Istook) for offering this thoughtful and gracious and heartfelt resolution.

I want my remarks on the floor today to be spontaneous, just as the response to the bombing in Oklahoma City was by thousands of Oklahomans and millions of Americans.

There are some dates that one remembers in their life. If one is from my generation, they remember the day that President Kennedy was assassinated, with crystal clarity; and I think all Americans remember where they were and what they were doing when the awful tragedy of 9/11 unfolded; and certainly all Oklahomans, and I think many Americans, remember where they were on April 19, 1995.

I certainly remember where I was. I was walking into the West entrance of the State capitol through a tunnel just at 9 o'clock, and I felt the tremble, and I wondered what it was, walked on down the hall into my office. My secretary immediately came and said something awful has happened in downtown Oklahoma City; we do not know what, but something terrible has happened.

That was followed immediately by a call from my wife who at the time was three blocks away from the blast site, working in a law office in downtown Oklahoma City, fortunately on the 14th floor and fortunately out of harm's way. But she called to say, something terrible is occurring. She said, I can see through my windows there is smoke billowing up out of downtown, and there are hundreds of people in the streets, streaming away; something awful has happened.

I immediately left my office and walked upstairs to the governor's office. As I walked through the door, I looked to my right, which was where the press room was located in that suite of offices, and I saw Governor Keating and his chief of staff, Clinton Key, and they were watching on television, only 9 minutes into the disaster at that point, but already helicopters from local televisions stations were there and giving us an aerial view. There was a great deal of speculation on the television about what had occurred, people attributing this to a natural gas explosion.

Governor Keating, who was a former FBI agent and had investigated incidents of terrorism in the 1960s on the West Coast, knew immediately what it was. He said that is no natural gas explosion. That is a car bomb. That is some sort of explosive device that has been set off deliberately.

From that moment forward, I watched an extraordinary response from one of the great public leaders that I have ever been privileged to associate with, Governor Frank Keating, as he marshaled the State and moved it forward to deal with the tragedy in front of him.

I saw a marvelous response from his wife, to skip ahead just a moment, Cathy Keating, who organized the memorial service that moved most Americans. That was her idea on the second day of the tragedy.

We were meeting that night, still not knowing, frankly, how many people had died, whether or not survivors were there, still dealing with all the tragedy associated with the event. She came into the meeting we were having in the governor's mansion and said, We need to have a memorial service; people need to grieve.

I remember honestly thinking at the time, how in the world can we pull off something like this; we have more than we can handle in front of us. I made that sentiment known, and the first lady, to her enduring credit, said, You leave it to me. People want to be involved.

I watched that extraordinary thing come forward as volunteers pitched in, as thousands of people who could not help immediately wanted to do something to respond and to help and to assist the victims of the tragedy. She made that happen, and without her, frankly, it would have never occurred.

I remember many other people. There were so many heroes in those days, so many people. Ron Norrick, the mayor of Oklahoma City, again I think one of the great public leaders in history, certainly in my State, the fire chiefs, the police officers, the responders, but most important, just average people, we could not ask for something and not get it. Frankly, we had more help pouring in than we could easily coordinate on the first few days.

I will tell my colleagues this, too. I am a very strong and very good Republican, and I certainly never voted for Bill Clinton, but I have got to tell my colleagues, he was a great President of the United States in that particular tragedy. I will always be grateful for what he did.

I remember the first day, again, of the incident, and President Clinton had called at 1 o'clock in the afternoon. By that point, the governor and his team had moved to the Civil Emergency Management Center, an underground location at the capitol complex in Oklahoma City, and President Clinton and Frank Keating were old friends. Frank Keating had been the student body president at Georgetown when President Clinton was the sophomore class president at Georgetown. So there was a familiarity and an ease of communication that was wonderful to have in a crisis like that.

I remember the President immediately offering all the aid at the disposal of the United States of America; and let me tell my colleagues, my fellow Americans, you do not know how lucky you are when you are in a crisis to be an American until that happens to you, because the response was overwhelming, and the President was generous and gracious and amazingly helpful.

As we moved forward in that discussion, President Clinton asked Governor Keating the obvious and most important question in some ways: Do you have any idea who is responsible for this terrible event? I remember there was lots of speculation about who might be responsible. There is still some speculation today, I suppose, but Governor Keating was nothing if not cautious and careful as a law enforcement official; and he said, We have no earthly idea and we need to be very careful here that blame not be placed on communities or things that did not happen.

The President very thoughtfully said, Well, I certainly hope it was not a foreign national, because if it was, we will be at war someplace in the world in 6 months. I thought about that a lot after 9/11 and what unfolded there and how prophetic he was, indeed, in that particular vision.

The day went on and it was a remarkable day, it was an intense day, but I suppose my most enduring memory of the day is leaving the capitol at 3:00 in the morning and driving down Lincoln Boulevard to get home and looking out the window and seeing this incredible line of people standing outside of a blood center at 3:00 in the morning, still wanting to do something to help. Amazing.

My role in that particular crisis, as it unfolded, was to do what Governor Keating told me to do; and that was to work with the Federal Government on the rebuilding process, and I focused my energy on that. We got a study and figured out how much damage there had been, and we began to understand how many lives and how terrifically awful it would be. And then I turned to the person that I knew would be the most helpful in that crisis at the Federal level and that was my good friend, Congressman Lucas. He represented that area of Oklahoma City at that point. And let me tell you, he was tireless, a Trojan in working on behalf of Oklahoma City and the victims. He did everything you could ask him to do and more, just simply a magnificent response on the part of my dear and good friend.

In that crisis, there was a lot of praise, and I think justifiably for Oklahomans, but I also think a vein of speculation, Well, only Oklahomans would respond this way. It is kind of a frontier community, it is relatively homogeneous, it is very conservative, it is very family oriented, has a strong basis of faith, and only in a place like that would a response like that occur.

I did not think that was true, but I have to tell you, on 9/11, when I watched a very diverse and very secular and very different New York City respond in exactly the same way as Oklahomans had responded, I had confirmed in an awful moment what I knew then, that the Oklahoman response was fundamentally an American response. That is the way Americans behave toward one another when things do not go well. So I will always remember this particular day.

Obviously, it is seared in my memory very, very deeply, and I remember the tragedies that unfolded afterwards and, frankly, remember the response to those tragedies even more profoundly.

But in closing, I would like to say, in reflecting on Oklahoma City, and I think it is clearly the lessons of 9/11 as well, that out of evil, grace comes; and I saw enormous grace on April 19, 1995, in Oklahoma City. And out of terror, courage comes; and I saw great courage, from the first responders to the average person that went in.

I remember Rebecca Anderson, who was the one first responder and nurse whom we lost, because she went back into a dangerous building. And I remember my good friend Tim Giblet, who was working downtown at the time, who saved a number of people, again going into a building, doing what he had no training to do. He was not an emergency worker, he just knew people needed help. So the courage was there.

And out of despair, hope, because there is a great deal of hope that comes when you see how your country and your fellow human beings respond in a crisis. And, finally, out of adversity, as my good friend, the gentleman from Oklahoma (Mr. Istook) mentioned, triumph. Because if you went to Oklahoma City today and you went to that exact spot, you would find a magnificent memorial. You would find, more importantly, a museum that not only tells the story, but puts the awful nature of terrorism in a broader context; and you would find a city that believes in itself and its future, probably more profoundly today than it did on April 18 of 1995.

That is a lesson I think all of us as Americans ought to remember. We all believe in our country, but when you have a particular crisis, that is when America is at its very best. Certainly, on this particular day that is when Oklahoma was at its very best. And I will always be grateful to Governor Keating, the First Lady, Cathy Keating; to my good friend Frank Lucas, who was there when we needed him; to the other members of our delegation, Senator Nickles, Senator Inhofe, who were also magnificent; but first and foremost to the people of Oklahoma City, who showed when you are challenged what you can do; and then to our fellow Americans, who at every level, at every moment, responded in the most helpful, the most thoughtful, and in the most supportive of ways.

It is a day to remember not only in terms of what is worst in humanity but what is best about America.