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.”