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As time marches on, bombing becomes a history lesson for youth

As time marches on, bombing becomes a history lesson for youth

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BROKEN ARROW, Okla. — Oklahomans of a certain age have been looking at the photo for 20 years now. So it's easy to forget how shocking it is to see firefighter Chris Fields cradling the limp body of 1-year-old Baylee Almon.

The seventh-grade students at Oliver Middle School in Broken Arrow, a suburb of Tulsa about an hour and 45 minutes northeast of Oklahoma City, had never seen it before.

And even though their teacher warned them to brace for it, some still gasped when they saw it.

"Have you ever heard that a photo is worth a thousand words?" teacher Angie Akers asked. "This is the iconic image of the Oklahoma City bombing."

For many of these students, this lesson on Oklahoma history is the first time they have even heard of the bombing. And for the vast majority of them, it's the first time that they have heard any details about the 1995 tragedy — something that happened about six years before any of them were born.

"If we don't teach history, our children are doomed to repeat it," Akers said. "They need to learn from our mistakes so they can make their own, not repeat ours."

Fifty-one percent of Oklahoma City residents either weren't born yet or didn't live in the area when the bombing happened, according to statistics from the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum.

For a whole new generation of Oklahomans, the bombing isn't a memory. It's just history.

"It's up to us to pass the story on to the next generation," said Kari Watkins, executive director of the museum. "Not just the story of the bombing, but the story of how Oklahoma responded to it and overcame the tragedy."

The museum offers a chronological walk through part of that April day in 1995, starting with an audio recording from the State Water Resources Board, which was meeting across the street from where the truck bomb was parked in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

Mundane bureaucratic chatter lulls everyone into a false sense of security. Then a massive blast, followed by hysterical screams, shocks people awake. Museum visitors know it's coming, but they can't help being startled.

Visitors then walk through displays of rubble while they are bombarded with news updates, much the way that Oklahomans began learning the details when the bombing happened. It feels, at first, overwhelming.

"It really sunk in and seemed real to me," said Becky Brown, 18, a Jenks High School senior who visited the museum on a school trip. "It sprouted a new sense of neighborhood. Everyone came together and bore the tragedy almost as a family would."

Other students from Jenks High, also in the Tulsa suburbs, knew little, if anything, about the bombing before their trip to Oklahoma City, said sophomore Kelcie Eckel, 15.

Families don't discuss it. And 9/11 has overshadowed it, with her generation worried about terrorist threats from overseas — not radicalized Americans attacking their own.

"The bombing had a major impact on Oklahoma," Eckel said, when asked what she learned. "It pulled many people from around the state, even the country, to help Oklahomans out when they needed it the most."

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