(I’m taking a little detour with this post for some Dan time. This weekend marks 20 years since the federal building in Oklahoma City was attacked. My father was in the building at the time and lived through it. Below is his story…some of it is familiar, but there are also personal thoughts that I’ve never shared. I hope there’s something in here for anyone who reads it. Dan)
I love my dad. It’s easy for me to say that now, but 20 years ago that may not have been an easy thing to do. I was 25 years old going on 15…maturity wasn’t there yet (still may not be to be honest) and I was a proud (some say bull-headed) dude who had a hard time expressing emotions. Then a militant maniac blew up the building where my dad worked. Don Bewley was on the 7th floor of the Alfred P. Murrah building on the morning of April 19, 1995. He was working for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. It was just before 9am, he had been helping a friend at her desk before going into another co-worker’s office. An ear-popping blast, the room goes dark, and the world…his world, my world, the world of thousands of Oklahomans…was changed forever.
Dad says when the light started to filter through he could see debris everywhere and the room was full of dust. He could also see black smoke and blue sky…which was weird, you’re not supposed to see the sky through a wall. Thing is, the wall was gone. You’ve seen that picture thousands of times showing the torn apart building, dad was standing right there, three feet from the edge, overlooking NW 5th St. He says chunks of concrete covered the floor, broken glass was at every turn, the pipes had burst forcing water to slowly leak across the floor, and electrical wires were dangling from the mangled walls and ceiling. He didn’t know what happened, he didn’t know how many people were dead. All he knew was the friend he was talking with a few minutes ago was gone. She was working where the floors fell like pancakes…like 167 others, Diane Althouse lost her life that day.
Dad and his surviving co-workers jumped on the desks to get out of the water and avoid electric shock. But they had to do something. Do they wait for rescue workers or do they make a break for it? Easy answer, says dad. Make a break for it. But what about the water and the electrical cords? Oh well, got to take the chance. So he and a few others jumped down, into the water expecting a shock. Nothing happened. Phew. Now run! To the stairwell. Nothing like a group of dressed up businessmen and women rushing down seven flights of stairs. They didn’t know what was waiting when they got to the bottom but it had to be safer than what was happening on the seventh floor.
Daylight, smoke, and a mass of confused Oklahomans is what they found. Thank goodness the paramedics and first responders were already there…dad was quickly taken to the hospital. His hands were swollen from where concrete fell on him and he had a gash on top of his head. This is where his sense of humor made itself known. Dad needed stitches and the doctor wanted to shave his head but my wedding date was a month-and-a-half away. I’m the oldest of three sons and the first to get married. He took the doctor’s hand and gently moved it away, saying he did not want to be bald for the wedding. The doc ended up attaching the stitches through dad’s hair. I’ve always wondered how many others would have thought of their son’s wedding in a situation like that. That’s my dad.
It’s strange to think that your father almost died. I learned of the bombing after dad was already safe and at the hospital. But my mind was constantly playing the “what if” game. What if he died? What if he was missing? What if was suffering? Thankfully, for us, dad didn’t have any major physical injuries…just the swollen hands and stitched up scalp. Dad jokes that he made it through because everything fell on his head and he’s always been known for being hard-headed. His wounds were more emotional. The next few weeks would be some of the toughest of his life. HUD had the most people killed of all the departments in the building. Dad knew a lot of them. He went to funeral after funeral, including several in the same day. It got to the point where he just couldn’t go to anymore. Couldn’t take it. Couldn’t deal with the emotional ups and downs (mostly downs).
I saw a different side of my dad that summer. That’s when I realized he’s a person, a human being with feelings and stuff. I know everyone, at some point in their life, begins to see their parents as people…for me, it took this tragedy. Ever since, I’ve made it a point to tell him that I love him and we hug every time we see each other. It’s also brought me closer to my own son who was born ten years after the bombing. He’s the most important thing in my life (right up there next to the missus of course) and takes priority over everything. I said goodbye to my career as a television journalist because it was causing me to spend too much time from him. I wanted to be his coach, I wanted to help him with his homework (except the math, I’m not good at the math). Maybe I want to spend too much time with him, but I want him to see me as human. I share my feelings with my son, I tell him when I mess up, and I tell him when I’m afraid. I’ve recently decided to pursue a lifelong dream of owning a business. I’m hoping it’s an example to my son that you only have one chance on this earth so you better make it count.
The bombing in Oklahoma City was horrific and unforgivable. I’d like to think it could never happen again, but I’m worried we’ll see a repeat because of the fractured nature of our society. When your fellow countrymen fail to see each other as Americans because of different political views, religious beliefs, or social concerns and instead treat them like some lower form of life, the possibility rises of another attack by Americans on Americans. That makes me sad.
One can dream though. Here’s hoping we learn that hate, violence, and the forcing of our ideals on to others is the worst way to solve problems. Until then, I’ll hug my dad (mom too) as much as I can, tell him I love him, and do everything I can to teach my son that everyone’s different and that’s what makes us special.
So many gave so much that day. The 168 lost lives should always be remembered and stand as a sign of what hate can deliver. The rescue workers who rushed into that building to treat, save, and recover the victims stand as a sign of what humanity is capable.
My dad’s name is on the Survivor Wall but I don’t like to think of him as a survivor. That’s who he was on that day but it doesn’t define him. His legacy is as the man who always supported me, taught me how to play baseball, passed on his passion for Sooner football, and even in the most difficult of times showed there’s still good in this world. Sometimes it’s a sense of humor that’s needed most.
I love you, dad.