April 6, 1996 in Nation/World

Clinton Cites Faith, Courage In Oklahoma Honors Lost Friend, Devastated City

Lois Romano Washington Post

President Clinton drew on his sorrow over the death of Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown to console and encourage a city still reeling from the bombing of a federal building here nearly a year ago.

“On this very difficult and painful day for me, when I have lost a great and good friend, and a lot of gifted employees of the federal government … the power of your example is very much with me,” Clinton told his audience of about 4,000 people at the Myriad Convention Center here.

“You have shown how strong you are, and you have given us all an example of the power of faith and community … and human courage,” he said, addressing survivors of the blast, relatives of the dead and local officials.

The president and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton spent Good Friday here to mark the anniversary of the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, when a truck carrying a 4,800-pound bomb exploded.

The bomb killed 168 people, injured more that 500 others and damaged about 300 downtown buildings. Clinton visited Friday because he will be in Japan on the anniversary date.

Clinton is mourning Brown and his party of business executives, government officials and others, whose plane crashed into a mountain in Croatia on Wednesday. “As we remember those who perished here almost a year ago, and we mourn those who died on that hard mountain … let us again thank God for the grace that has … enabled us to live with our sorrows and tragedies and to rebuild our lives,” the president said.

Clinton praised the spirit of Oklahomans as they have struggled to rebuild shattered lives in the past year. “You’ve taken some of the meanness out of our national life and put a little more love and respect into it,” he said.

And he encouraged them to move forward. “A lot of you probably still have your doubts about all of this. I’m sure there’s some lingering anger and even some rage and dark and lonely nights for many of the family members.

“I can only say to you that the older I get, the more I know that you have to try harder to make the most of each day and accept the fact that things will happen we can never understand or justify.”

Earlier, as nearby bagpipes sounded the somber sounds of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” Clinton placed a large wreath at the site where the Murrah building once stood, now an empty city block covered by sod and surrounded by a chain-link fence.

He and the first lady were accompanied by the six small children, ages 2 to 6, who had been in the Murrah building’s second-floor day-care center and survived the deadly blast. Fifteen children from the center, and another four visiting the building, were killed.

Hillary Clinton held the hand of Brandon Denny, 4, who has undergone at least six brain surgeries and is still in fragile health because of the explosion. The wreath was made up of 168 flowers, one for each life lost. The first lady laid down a little teddy bear, the community symbol of the children who died.

The Clintons then walked a few yards, across what used to be Fifth Street, for the president to dedicate a plaque for a new YMCA day-care center, also destroyed in the blast.

“I know there’s nothing that anyone can do to bring back the children whose lives were taken from us, nothing that we can do to sweep away the frightening memories that still linger in the children who survived, except to continue to work until they finally go away,” he said.

From the Clintons’ vantage point, the devastation was still very much apparent in the blocks surrounding the site with many buildings badly damaged, boarded up and empty. The YMCA plaque, from the president, read: “Dedicated to the children whose young lives remind us of the eternal beauty of the human spirit.” The president made a final stop at the University of Central Oklahoma, where he denounced terrorism and urged the passage of the anti-terrorism bill that has passed the Senate but has been stalled in the House.

Timothy James McVeigh and Terry Lynn Nichols await trial in Denver on conspiracy and murder charges in the bombing. Clinton today proclaimed April 19 as a National Day of Remembrance and asked Americans to observe a moment of silence at 9:02 a.m. (7:02 a.m. PDT) that day, the precise time of the explosion.

Before leaving Washington, the Clintons planted a white dogwood tree on the South Lawn of the White House - next to one they planted last year in memory of those died on April 19.

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