U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. John Hale sat alone in the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum.
Hale was staring, not just glancing out the window.
The soldier, who is stationed at Fort Sill, focused beyond the Rescuers' Orchard and the Reflecting Pool to the Field of Empty Chairs in the Outdoor Symbolic Memorial.
Then he paused, tilted and lowered his head slightly and firmly ran his right hand over his face. When finished his eyes remained closed.
On Friday, the Remembrance Ceremony will be held to mark the 18th anniversary of the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. Similar to previous years, 168 seconds of silence will be observed at 9:02 a.m. for those lost as a result of the bombing.
But people come to the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum daily to remember.
Hale came two weeks in a row to the bombing memorial. He brought with him different groups of soldiers from Fort Sill.
It's not just the history that brings them to this site in downtown Oklahoma City. They make the trip to remember those lost and injured.
They also come to be reminded of the many reasons why what happened 18 years ago is still important today, Hale said.
“It's also to let them know that terrorism doesn't just happen in the Middle East,” he said. “I brought a smaller group last week, a young group of soldiers. It's to get these soldiers to understand that there's something bigger than themselves.
“To serve in our Army, our armed forces in general, a person has to have a sense of something bigger than themselves, because we defend a way of life for our country as a whole.”
Offering many lessons
In the museum, behind Hale's most recent group, were students from Bacone College in Muskogee.
They are part of the school's leadership and enrichment program, the Warrior Academy for Excellence.
Cathy Kass, a professor at Bacone, brought the students. She lived in Oklahoma City at the time of the bombing. And she previously has visited the national memorial. But she came this time for the students.
Kass said it's important that we understand the history of the bad events, as well as the good events, so that hopefully those aren't repeated.
Training future leaders is one approach, she said.
“Over many, many years I've taught about the Holocaust, I've helped the Native Americans teach about their history,” Kass said.
“All of those histories, including this one, help us remember that we have the potential to be an observer or a rescuer or a victim or a persecutor, and we all have to work hard to make the right decisions so that we are bettering the world.”
Kaitlin Connel was among the Bacone students touring the museum. Her goal is to some day be an elementary schoolteacher.
She said that regardless of age, people should know what happened April 19, 1995. She has visited the national memorial a few times.
“Especially when I see like the little kids' shoes or the teddy bears, it gets to me,” she said.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Stephanie Jefferson was among those from Fort Sill at the museum.
“What stays with me is just how real it is,” Jefferson said, “that you can wake up and have a normal day, and it could change for the rest of your life.
“It's important to me to remember those taken away from us, and also to be aware that this can happen again. We have to be mindful of these things on an everyday basis.”
After walking from the window, Hale stood in one place for a few minutes and looked around.
“It's very educational,” Hale said. “It's very moving, as well.”
I brought a smaller group last week, a young group of soldiers. It's to get these soldiers to understand that there's something bigger than themselves.”
U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. John Hale,