The November wind stripped leaves from the Survivor Tree at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum.
A few feet away, the sun sparkled off the black fur of Tommy, a Labrador retriever guide dog resting at the feet of Michael Stephens, a 61-year-old visually impaired U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served his country in Vietnam.
Stephens was among about 15 to 20 members of a support group for blind and visually impaired veterans called VITAL, Veterans' Independence Through Adaptive Living, visiting the national memorial just days before Veterans Day.
“It's important because as a veteran we should teach other people, children, young people about respect for people who have lost their lives in situations like this,” Stephens said of the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
“These things that happen like this are the face of evil. People need to know the difference between good and evil. This is what happens when evil manifests itself.”
Outside, as he sat near the Survivor Tree, he reflected on where he was at 9:01 a.m. the day of the bombing.
“I was on the south side of Oklahoma City at some apartments,” he said.
“I was on the couch with one leg off, and I was just fixing to get up and get my dog up and turn the TV on and go outside when the blast jarred my door that far away. I thought ‘What the heck was that? That had to have been a bomb somewhere.'
“By the time I turned the TV on, they were already reporting that something happened down here.”
Stephens began losing his vision in about 1989, and his eyesight has continued to worsen.
At the memorial museum, he nearly pressed his face to photos to see images or relied on the descriptions of Michelle Williams, or did both.
Williams is the AmeriCorps program coordinator for the group's organizer, NewView Oklahoma, formerly the Oklahoma League for the Blind.