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Special Event

President Bush Dedicates Oklahoma City Memorial

Aired February 19, 2001 - 1:01 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: President Bush is in Oklahoma this hour, remembering one of the darkest moments in U.S. history. Mr. Bush is dedicating a museum filled with photos, scraps of clothing, even an audio recording from the deadliest act of terrorism ever committed on U.S. soil. The event is just beginning. You will first hear from Robert Johnson, chairman of the Oklahoma City National Memorial Trust. You'll also hear from the president and victims and those who lost family members.

ROBERT JOHNSON, CHAIRMAN, OKLAHOMA CITY NATIONAL MEMORIAL TRUST: It is fitting, it is thoughtful of you. And today, more than a half a million people have walked through its gates of time. The memorial's second component, the Institute for Prevention of Terrorism, is funding research grants and hosting research-oriented conferences and a symposium.

Both of these components are very worthy. But today, we strengthen them by opening the third component of the memorial, an educational center known as the memorial center.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower said that nothing is wrong with America that cannot be cured through faith, love of freedom, and energy of her citizens.

The memorial center is a testament to our faith, the precious nature of freedom from fear and violence, and to the reaffirmation that Americans always unite when faced with a common enemy.

I believe without this educational center, we would have shortchanged future generations. Without it, the future could not learn of the horror of that morning and the innocence we lost. Without it, the future cannot come here and learn and take home a resolve to do what they can in their lives to prevent such violence. Without it, the future could not understand the pain and suffering brought about by hate.

As a community and a nation, we could have responded to hate with more hate. But we did not. Rather, the memorial center captures our response, consisting of thousands of acts of virtue. And it will inspire people to make a difference.

Certainly in that response and in the education which will emanate from the educational center we open today, there is great hope for all mankind. I believe that we will be judged by the future and in the Oklahoma City National Memorial Center the future will see that evil did not triumph here.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please join me for 168 seconds in memory of those who were killed and those who survived and all of us changed forever.

(SILENCE)

It is a long time. There were many, many lives. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: May all who leave here know the impact of violence.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: May this memorial bring you comfort, strength, peace, hope and serenity.

ALLEN: At this moment, they're having a presentation of colors. That will be followed by the Pledge of Allegiance, and some performances and song.

During this time, we're going to take a moment to talk with our correspondent, Tony Clark, who was there just after this happened. He's there now.

Tony, if you can tell us a little more about this memorial center they're dedicating today.

TONY CLARK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'll tell you, it is very dramatic. It is hard not to be moved when you go inside there. There is an audiotape recording from the Water Resources Board, which is no longer here. It was across the street from the Murrah Building.

There was a meeting going on there, and the audio from the meeting, you can hear the explosion. You walk into the next room, and it takes you to the moments after the explosion, the chaos. You see the rubble, you see the kinds of debris -- the kinds of personal affects.

There's one scene in there where you see, amid the concrete rubble, you see a woman's shoe, you see a keychain, the kinds of personal affects, the everyday lives that simply reaches out to you and tells you how simply horrible it was and the people that were trapped in there.

There were also a lot of personal statements, videos, recordings by people who either survived the bombing or lost loved ones. You see Florence Rogers' (ph) dress. Florence Rogers was the head of the credit union. Her office was on the third floor. She had just called eight of her employees into her office for a meeting at 9 o'clock when the explosion occurred, and the floor in front of her desk simply fell away. All eight people -- all of the employees there who were in her office were killed. She told me the other day when she saw her dress hanging there in the museum, it came as a surprise to her, and she simply started sobbing, because it brought everything back to her from April 19th, 1995.

And I think that's the feeling you get as you walk through the museum. It brings it all back.

Near the end, there are portraits and shadow boxes of all 168 victims -- 149 adults and 19 children -- and mementos of most of them in the shadow box. Toys, children's toys in with their pictures, the kinds of things that -- that really personalize this -- it to you.

You know, today during the ceremonies, in addition to the president speaking, we'll hear from Don Ferrell (ph). He lost his daughter in the bombing. And I think one of the things -- I remember from the dedication of the memorial, one of the things that is going to be very moving will be the Nichols Hills elementary school choir singing "Let there be peace on Earth." They sang that at the dedication of the memorial itself, which is just next to us, 168 empty chairs there, and are scheduled to sing it again.

The flags being raised now here at the ceremony, the presentation of colors. That will be followed by a Pledge of Allegiance, "The Star-Spangled Banner," invocation, and the singing of "God Bless America" by a choir here, a community choir of 168 voices: one for each of the victims.

ALLEN: What a poignant service they have planned, Tony, and I wanted to also ask you, why the decision to build a museum? It's so moving just watching the video. I cannot imagine what it's like to actually be there. Who decided it and why did they decide to have these components?

(CROSSTALK)

CLARK: Because, you know -- because, you know, as Bob Johnson was just saying, it is a chance to learn from this tragedy, to never forget what happened here, to remember the -- the tragedy here, but also to learn from it. Hope is the message that comes from it. The Pledge of Allegiance now here.

ALLEN: Tony Clark, we thank you. We're going to pause in our coverage. Again, as Tony mentioned, we expect key speakers, including the president, in just a moment to address the people there. We'll take a break and we will continue in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: It's another somber day in Oklahoma City, where today the dedication to the Oklahoma City National Memorial Center is under way. We're expecting to hear from the president of the United States shortly. Right now, let's listen to what the governor of the state, Frank Keating, has to say.

GOV. FRANK KEATING (R), OKLAHOMA: ... how could this happen at this place, how could this happen to these wonderful men and women, family members, now orphaned? Lost brothers and sisters and fathers and brothers and children, how could this happen here?

But we are a believing people. We know that out of evil, good comes. And good came. Goodness and heroism. Rebecca Anderson (ph), who gave her life so that others could live. Goodness and heroism. The rescue workers, the fire service, the police, the highway patrol, the National Guard, medical personnel, men and women, including crane operators and construction workers who came out here just a few feet from where we sit and stand, and risked everything to save those who needed saving and to extract the dead so that they could be returned to their loved ones. Heroism and goodness.

In this place, 320 buildings were damaged or destroyed, but not one act of looting took place. Heroism and goodness.

This community raised the money to put every child through college who lost both parents, and there were 30: every child through college who lost one parent, and there were 200. Heroism and goodness.

We stitched ourselves together without race or color or sex or nationality because we wanted to lift up and help and heal those, our fellow brothers and sisters, who had lost everything, their family, and who needed our comfort and our hope.

The legacy of this place is heroism and goodness. That is what we celebrate in this museum, heroism and goodness.

And it is my hope as governor that is something that we will never forget. The message and the mission of this place will be that we as human beings should love one another and care for one another, and not permit evil or selfishness to depreciate or deprave us.

Mr. President, thank you for coming.

(APPLAUSE)

JOHNSON: Thank you, Governor Keating. We are so very pleased to have National Park Service Rangers as members of the memorial staff. The blending together of government and private sector staffs presents both a challenge and an enormous opportunity.

We believe that on this very ground, where an attack was made on our government, we will refine and create a model that will serve both other government agencies and the National Park Service very well.

I'm very, very pleased to have today a member of the memorial trust board and the director of the innermountain region of the National Park Service, Karen Wade.

(APPLAUSE)

KAREN WADE, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE: Mr. President and Mrs. Bush, my fellow citizens, your National Park Service joins in welcoming all of you here today. Our agency is honored to share the stewardship responsibilities for this special place, a moving and remarkable memorial.

There's little in our nation's history that prepared us for what we share here. History, any history, is a product of time. But here we must think not in terms of eons, centuries, decades, years, hours or minutes, but in terms of seconds. Seconds made this place an instant part of who and what we are as a nation. Seconds are a stark contrast to a place like the Grand Canyon, for example, where the external forces of nature take tens of thousands of years to carve out a landscape, revealing billions of years of the Earth's history.

Here we are a nation altered in a blink of an eye: one moment a quiet street on an ordinary day; the next, a terrible wound to our national soul.

Such suddenness gives this memorial an impressive power over all who come here. But this memorial is just the beginning.

Here in this museum, we tell a story that goes to the heart of what it is to be an American. It goes to the heart of what it means to be human.

Here, we have the most difficult, but the most basic story: the story of life's terrors and tragedies, its loss and its suffering, the clash of innocence with evil. Here we tell the story of heroism surmounting fear and danger, the story of endurance and sacrifice giving rise to hope and belief in the future.

Here, as we meet the victims and learn their individual stories, this new memorial center reminds us that these powerful lessons learned here are brought to us at great cost.

On behalf of the men and women of the National Park Service and especially those who serve proudly as part of this memorial staff, we want you to know that we're proud to serve our nation here in Oklahoma City and to be a part of today's opening celebration of the memorial center.

Thank you and congratulations to all of you who have labored so hard.

(APPLAUSE)

JOHNSON: Thank you, Director Wade.

In 1997, when we approached Congress to make this a national memorial, we were -- were guided by our congressional delegation to create a very unique structure for a national memorial. Congress provided $5 million to help us build the memorial, but at our request, we are the only unit of the National Park Service, the national park system, that the operations of which are not funded by congressional appropriation.

We have retained local control, but as we requested, we retain responsibility to defray all of our expenses, including the National Park Service staffing. We believe this is a very high-road approach of which all Oklahomans should be very proud.

Leading the effort in the crafting of the Oklahoma City National Memorial Act was Oklahoma's senior senator. Please welcome the Honorable Don Nickles.

(APPLAUSE)

REP. DON NICKLES (R), OKLAHOMA: Thank you. Bob Johnson, thank you very much. And I would be remiss if I didn't say on behalf of all Oklahomans and all Americans, thank you for an outstanding job as chairman of the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial Trust.

(APPLAUSE)

And Karen Luke (ph), likewise I'd like to thank you for being chairman of the Oklahoma City Bombing Foundation. You've done a great job. It's great to see success in the private sector.

(APPLAUSE)

And President and Mrs. Bush, we are delighted that you're here. You honor us with your presence. And I might remember -- or remind the audience that then-Governor Bush and mrs. Bush were with us at the initial memorial service back in -- in 1995. So we thank you for coming today and six years ago as well.

Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

April 19th, 1995, 168 lives were lost, thousands were hurt beyond measure. Survivors that are here today will have their lives moved, changed dramatically, injured.

We come to let you know that we continue to pray for you, to think of you, to let you know that your hurt is our hurt. We share your pain.

We wish to acknowledge that this is a national tragedy. One of the reasons Bob mentioned that we passed legislation, because it's a national tragedy. This hurt not only Oklahoma City, not only the victims and the family members, but it hurt nationally.

America cried for the disaster that happened, the worst disaster of terrorism in our nation's history. It happened in Oklahoma City in '95. It's still hard for us to comprehend.

The entire country reached out. There was a national response: a national response beyond comprehension. The many hundreds that came together to help their survivors, who helped the victims, who came together to pray -- I'll never forget Billy Graham's prayer when he called for healing, when he reached out and touched our lives and our hearts, helped heal the anguish and the tears that were felt by so many.

And then the community efforts that came. Mr. President, you'll be pleased to know that your vice president, then Dick Cheney who was then chairman of Halliburton, let the effort in the private sector to raise money for the memorial center and did an outstanding job. And those of you that haven't had a chance, we should acknowledge that. An outstanding company.

(APPLAUSE)

And I think all of us have seen the national memorial, and I think it was done with great class and dignity. And those of you that haven't had a chance to see the memorial museum will be touched. It will move your heart. It will bring back memories, and it will also bring back this idea, this feeling of hope.

While this bombing was one of the worst days ever in our national history, no question about it, this bombing and this tragedy brought about great faith and belief not only in our state, but frankly from people all across the country, because we did come together. We did say, without doubt, that evil will not triumph, that love will overcome evil every time.

(APPLAUSE)

Mr. President, we're pleased that you selected an Oklahoman, Joe Allbaugh, to be the head of the Federal Emergency Management. Most of us got to know James Lee Witt during the tragedy. He became an Oklahoman for a couple of months and served us well, our country.

And so I would just say that on behalf of the entire delegation, we are happy to be part of this unique operation, this combination, having the memorial museum as part of our National Park Service, because we had a national event, a national tragedy. And it's one I think that when people tour the museum, they'll see that yes, there is this coming together, this pride, this sensibility that we did overcome the evil.

It reminds me of the Psalms. Psalm 118. The psalmist said: "In my anguish, I cried to the Lord. He answered by setting me free. The Lord is with me. I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me? The Lord is with me, He is my helper. I will look and triumph on my enemies."

Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

JOHNSON: Thank you, Senator Nickles. As the visitor exits the last of the 10 chapters of the story told within the memorial center, which speaks of hope, you will be challenged by a remarkable group of young people to take responsibility, to help find a way to reduce violence of any kind. You're about to hear from the Nichols Hills elementary varsity choir, and I ask that you listen to the message very carefully. Our hope for peace on Earth is dependent on each of us.

CHOIR: Let there be peace on earth and let it be begin with me.

Let there be peace on Earth, for peace that was meant to be.

With (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Let me walk with my brother (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

Let peace begin with me. Let this be (UNINTELLIGIBLE) now. With every step I take, let this be my song (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me. And let it begin with me.

KEATING: The Sunday following the tragedy, my wife, Kathy (ph), organized a prayer service at the fairgrounds. During the process of that organization, Laura Bush, then the first lady of Texas, suggested to Kathy that we invite Billy Graham -- and we did. That Sunday, George W. and Laura Bush came to be with us. The day after the memorial service, there was a photograph shown on the front page of every newspaper around the country and in many countries of the world, and in that newspaper was Dan McKinney, a member of the Secret Service family, clutching a teddy bear, to his right, his son. He had a look of unspeakable anguish on his face. To his right, President and Mrs. Clinton. To his left, Kathy and me.

Cropped out of that photograph was the governor of Texas and the first lady of Texas, George W. and Laura Bush. Our friend then, our friend now,

Mr. President, I promise you, you will never be cropped out again.

(LAUGHTER)

Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States.

(APPLAUSE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, governor, for your kind words. Thank you all very much.

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you. Mr. Governor, thank you very much. The picture was a better picture.

(APPLAUSE)

Laura and I are honored to be here.

I want to thank the choirs for their beautiful music. And I want to thank the congressional delegation for your hospitality. Mr. Mayor, thank you very much, it's good to see you again, sir.

I appreciate so very much the tour of the memorial center we just took. It is a really well-done place. It's powerful.

Bob Johnson, you and your board deserve a lot of credit.

I particularly want to thank our tour guides, Jeannine Gist and Richard Williams and Major Ed Hill.

A lot of Americans are going to come and be better people for having walked through this center.

I want to thank the families of the victims, the survivors and the fine citizens of the great state of Oklahoma for your welcome.

One of the things that we remember of that day in 1995 is the conduct of the leaders of Oklahoma, Oklahoma City and of your state, particularly your governor and his great wife Cathy.

You had just taken office, Frank, and yet, in the aftermath of the awful moment, you showed such character and strength. America came to admire that, and the people of Oklahoma will never forget it.

(APPLAUSE)

America found a lot to admire in Oklahoma during those days. You suffered so much, and you responded with courage. Your loss was great, and your pain was deep, but far greater and deeper was your care for one another.

That is what lasts, and that's what brings us back to this place on this day.

Memorials do not take away the pain. They cannot fill the emptiness, but they can make a place in time and tell the value of what was lost. The debris is gone and the building is no more. Now this is a place of peace and remembrance and life.

A mother who lost her daughter here will be working in the new museum. She said, "When I come down here to the memorial, I've always felt a very good feeling. This is where she was happy, and this is where she was last."

The time for mourning may past, but the time for remembering never does. Here we remember one act of malice. The gates of time record the very moment of it. Yet we also remember many acts of human kindness and heroism and love. Some were recorded, some not. But by 9:03 on that morning, a new and hopeful story was already being written.

The truth of Oklahoma City is the courage and comfort you found in one another. It began with the rescue; it continues with this memorial; it is recorded in this museum.

Together, you endured. You chose to live out the words of St. Paul: "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good."

(APPLAUSE)

Because of this spirit, your memorial belongs to all America. People from all over our country come here every day and will always come to look and remember and say a prayer. Oklahoma City will always be one of those places in our national memory where the worst and the best both came to pass.

The presence of evil always reminds us of the need for vigilance. All of us have an obligation to confront evil wherever and whenever it manifests itself. We must enforce laws and reject hatred and bigotry. And we have a duty to watch for warning signs.

Last year, the United States Secret Service conducted a study of targeted violence in our nation's schools. They found that most of the time the person who planned the violence told someone before the attack. In almost every case, the individual displayed some behavior that caused others to be concerned.

We all have a duty to watch for and report troubling signs.

The evil that destroys and the good that saves are equally real. Both can be taught; both can be learned.

All order in our society begins in the souls of citizens. Character is often shaped or bent early in life. And every family and in every school, we must teach our children to know and choose the good, to teach values that defeat violence, to teach good kids to respect one another, to do unto others, the meaning of love.

Our first response to evil must be justice, yet a part of us is never satisfied by justice alone. We much search for more, for understanding and healing beyond punishment. Faith tells us that all wrongs are righted and all suffering redeemed. But that faith is tested, especially for those of you with empty chairs at home. Hardest of all is the loss of the children, of the lives taken so soon after they were given.

I hope it helps to remember that we are never closer to God than when we grieve.

Faith is tested in suffering. And faith is often born in suffering, for that is when we seek the hope we most need. That is when we awaken to the greatest hope there is. That is when we look beyond our lives to the hour when God will wipe away every tear and death will be swallowed up in victory. On this Earth, tragedy may come even on a warm spring day, but tragedy can never touch eternity. This is where they were last. But beyond the gates of time lie a life eternal and a love everlasting.

You in Oklahoma City are victims of tragedy and witnesses to hope. You've overcome evil, and you have suffered with courage. And for that, your nation is grateful.

God bless.

WATERS: President George W. Bush showing some emotion as he spends part of his day here in Oklahoma City paying tribute to the victims who died in the Oklahoma City bombing and speaking to the courage of the survivors and the healing of this national memorial interactive learning museum is designed to help promote.

One of the exhibits that the president saw before he came up to speak was a grainy security photograph of a Ryder rental truck packed with the homemade fertilizer-and-fuel bomb approaching the Murrah Federal Building. The truck, driven by Timothy McVeigh, who as you all know was sentenced to death for carrying out that bombing.

He is scheduled to be executed at a federal prison in Indiana on May 16th.

The president spent the weekend in Crawford, Texas at his ranch. He took part in Crawford for a few the residents who live there -- and there are very few, only about 700. Three -- 300 or so showed up for $25 at a mini inaugural ball for their famous neighbor.

The president has a busy week ahead of him: It's taxes and education proposals, with visits to Tennessee, to Ohio and Missouri on Friday, and meeting with Tony Blair at the White House.

So the president is now on his way to Tinker Air Force Base, on his way back to Washington. He should arrive there late this afternoon.

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