Pete DeMaster was working for the Defense Security Service on the third floor of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995. He spent just one day each week in the downtown office.
That same day, Ross Lambert was waiting for a few late stragglers to join his flight training meeting at Tinker Air Force Base when they heard the bang of the explosion. Lambert was first trained by DeMaster when he came to Tinker in 1979.
In the coming weeks, members of the Air Force volunteered. Lambert, for some reason, decided not to join. He later found out DeMaster was killed in the blast.
That's what fuels Lambert's return each year to volunteer for the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. He's been there since Year 1. Even when he moved to a small town near Sierra Vista, Ariz., he paid his way to come back and volunteer.
This is his way of remembering. This is his way of honoring Pete DeMaster.
Lambert started volunteering in the first race, helping near the finish line. His role, over the years, grew. From 2002 and 2003, he said he worked the course. From 2004 to 2006, he said he was in charge of putting together court marshals, who are there to help the runners stay safe throughout the race. He put over 300 people out on the 26.2 miles. He never missed a marathon.
“The other people who volunteered with me, they became a family to me,” Lambert said. “We all knew why we were doing this, whether it was a personal connection or a feeling of something important to do for those who lost their lives.”
When Lambert moved away, he promised he would come back every year if he could. Financially, he's been able to make it work. A novelist, Lambert uses the trip to Oklahoma City as part charitable contribution and part business trip since the week following the marathon, a large writing conference always takes place.
Now, in his 13th race, Lambert sits in his own booth to give directions to relay runners who are racing for the first time. He noticed in the first couple years that relay runners didn't always know where to go, running the wrong legs of the course, and knew it was a problem that could immediately be solved.
He also rides in the vehicle that goes ahead of the lead runner. The marathon's course director, John Hulsey, met Lambert for the first time last year when they rode in the lead vehicle together.
“I think it's absolutely incredible,” Hulsey said, who ran eight Memorial marathons before he started volunteering in 2009. “I think it speaks highly of what the Memorial means to him, what it stands for and what we're trying to accomplish there. That's huge.”
Lambert expects this year's race will have some differences. He already is aware of some procedural differences, like runners only being able to drop off and pick up their clothes in a bag given to them by the race, but he believes it remains a special event.
“I really saw the strength of character that this city has,” Lambert said about Oklahoma City after the bombings and then the devastating tornado a few years later. “That's something that's very special. It's something the city can be proud of. We've gone through difficult times. The city has kept its collective head up and kept going and tried to make positive things out of the tragedies that have happened.
“To be a part of something like that, I think it's a special thing. It's an honor to be able to be a part of that.”