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Memorial volunteer knew many of the victims

Ben Luschen Published: July 1, 2013

 The Gallery of Honor inside the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum was built to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. It’s a room too familiar to Bob Humphrey.

“You see him up there,” Humphrey said, pointing to a man’s picture hanging in the gallery that features a portrait of each of the 168 victims. “That could have been me.”

Humphrey worked in the department of Housing and Urban Development for 28 years, his last years on the job spent inside their Murrah Building office. He retired less than three weeks before the bombing. His last day before retiring, Humphrey helped his friend and co-worker John Van Ess — the man in the picture — move in to his old desk.

“I wanted to start my own business and I figured that was the time to do it,” Humphrey said. “John, he thought I was staying a little longer. I said, ‘No, I just need to go John. It’s time for me to get out of here.’”

Humphrey was in the driveway of his home near Lake Overholser when he heard the explosion. At first he thought it might have been a sonic boom. It wasn’t.

Over the next month, Humphrey attended many funerals. He was one of the pallbearers at the Van Ess funeral. Though it was a dark time for Humphrey, he also knew how fortunate he was.

“I like to think I had a guardian angel watching over me,” he said.

Humphrey, a self-described ‘people person,’ is now retired from the housing business altogether. He began his work as a memorial volunteer earlier this year. Humphrey guides people through the museum and, using his firsthand knowledge of the Murrah Building, is able to answer many of the guests’ questions.

Most of all, Humphrey enjoys telling guests a little bit about Van Ess and his other friends and coworkers from within the Gallery of Honor.

“I have a lot of stories about these people,” he said. “I could go for hours telling them all.”

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