Amid the countless questions on Sept. 11, 2001, was a certainty.
Oklahoma City and New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pa., were connected not only by dates — April 19, 1995, and Sept. 11, 2001 — but a willingness to stop whatever one was doing and help others, said Kari Watkins, executive director of the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum.
Oklahomans wanted to help those affected by 9/11 just as others had so genuinely and unselfishly wanted to assist after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
“Oklahomans and New Yorkers really began to work together on April 19, 1995, when the New York Urban Search and Rescue Team came here,” Watkins said. “So when 9/11 happened, it seemed obviously apparent that we needed to do something to reach out to them, to help them. So we looked at several different things, and one was running a full-page ad in The New York Times, which we did on Sept. 13.
“That was for New York, the Pentagon and Shanksville. People stood with us in our darkest hour, and it was our responsibility to say, ‘We're here for you now.'
There was absolute truth in that advertising, Watkins said. Oklahomans went east: family members and survivors of the bombing in Oklahoma City, rescue and recovery workers, counselors and so many more. Oklahomans sent expertise, teddy bears, money and love. And that has continued for 10 years.
One example has been the ongoing outreach from the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum to the 9/11 Memorial in New York City.
“It was a familiar pain, and it was time for us to reach out,” Watkins said. “We have shared different stories, lessons, policies, and I think we've pretty much given them an open book as to how and why we've done things at both the memorial and the museum.”
Representatives of the 9/11 Memorial talked to Oklahoma families and officials. They looked at the memorial's archives. They studied policies such as how items are kept. They looked at exhibits and how stories were told. They considered how to best recognize family members, survivors and others.
Plus, those working with the memorial in New York would pick up the phone and call or shoot an email saying, “Hey we're going through this, did you guys go through it?”
“Those are the types of things that we had walked through, we had walked in their shoes,” Watkins said. “And so we'd say this is what worked for us and what didn't work for us, and we just kind of shared lessons learned.”
Sharing is key
Shared is a key word. From 2002 to 2003, the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum offered an exhibit titled “A Shared Experience, 04.19.95-09.11.01.”
They shared so much, starting with two picture-perfect mornings clouded in a matter of minutes by terrorism. They also shared an immediate response to help their American neighbors.
The exhibit included a video with people from both tragedies telling their stories. Among those was Hugh Rice of Oklahoma City, father of David Rice, who was killed in the World Trade Center.
“On Thursday, this police sergeant did call, and I knew what he was going to tell me,” Rice said on the video. “ ... before he told me I said, ‘I want to let you know from Oklahoma City that we want to thank the New York City Police Department for all the help you gave us when you came out here in April 1995.' And he said, ‘Well, I appreciate you saying that because two of those people from my police force who came out there are my close friends and they are at the bottom of that rubble.'”
Alice M. Greenwald, the 9/11 Memorial Museum director, said that through the years, Watkins and her staff have been extraordinarily helpful as they have worked through any number of issues to forge a design for the 9/11 Memorial Museum.
“She has been generous with her wisdom, and her team has been unfailingly supportive of our efforts,” Greenwald said. “As two cities that have suffered the ravages of terrorism, the bond between Oklahoma City and New York City is a deep and abiding one.
“And, now, as two communities that look to the future with resilience, we remain close partners in the shared commitment to a building a better future through education and commemoration.”
Watkins also stresses the importance of both memorials educating people about how innocent lives were lost to needless act of terrorism.
“We have to figure out how to get things done in a way that is cordial and respectful,” Watkins said, “and to know that even though you and I might come at things from different opinions yours is as important to you as mine is to me. We have to somehow find common ground.
“That's a very important lesson I think we have to teach from coast to coast.”
Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum Response to 9/11/2001
•New York Times full page ad, Sept. 13
•Prayer Service at the Survivor Tree, Sept. 14
•Hope Bear Project — more than 600 bears sent to the schools in the three cities
•Cooperative effort with American Red Cross in sending family member assistance, sent family members to work with New York City family members for the first month after the attacks.
•Lower Manhattan Development Corporation Visit, Jan. 23
•A Shared Experience 04.19.95 — 09.11.01
Exhibit Preview & Opening, April 19
•Spirit of Oklahoma Rescue Truck donated to New York City, May 8-10
•Celebrating America's Freedoms: A Day of Remembrance, Sept. 11
•Understanding Terrorism Roundtable, Oct. 1
•Lower Manhattan Development Corporation Memorial Research Tour, Oct. 4
•Cooperative effort with American Red Cross continues with family members and survivors
•Worked with New York Historical Society on archiving and collecting policies and procedures
•The Phoenix Rising Summit, an event designed to bring together community caregivers from Oklahoma City and Middletown, N.J., May 5- 6
•Flight 93 Task Force Seminar, May 1-3
•Pentagon Visit, Oklahoma City National Memorial staff in Washington, D.C.
•Rudy Giuliani visit, June 14
•Freedom Walk, Sept. 11
•World Trade Center Memorial Foundation Exhibit Planning Trip to Oklahoma City National Memorial, Nov. 7–8, 2007
•“America At A Crossroads” Screening and panel discussion led by Former U.S. Ambassador Prudence Bushnell
•A televised conversation with Rudy Giuliani and Ron Norick, former mayors who helped rebuild two great American cities torn apart by terrorism, April 19
•Mayor Michael Bloomberg visit, May 11
•Flag ceremony at the Survivor Tree, Sept. 11
•The Tour for the Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum staff in Oklahoma City, Nov. 17-18
•A Journey for 9/11, retired NFL New York Giants player George Martin stops at Oklahoma City National Memorial, Feb. 11
•Pentagon Memorial officials return for Education Summit to learn about how we educate about the senselessness of violence.
•Official Stitching Ceremony, The National 9/11 Flag, Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, April 19
•Ride for 9-11, firefighters bicycling from California to New York City, Aug. 12
•Memorial officials have worked with staffs in all three cities on their Memorial process throughout the past decade.
Source: Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum.