Tinker recalls the OKC bombing 25 years later

  • Published
  • By Christian Tabak
  • 72nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

At 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, domestic terrorists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols detonated a truck bomb outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City, killing 168 and wounding more than 600.

Included among those killed in the attack were two of Tinker’s own, Airman 1st Class Cartney Jean McRaven of the 32nd Combat Communications Squadron and Airman 1st Class Lakesha Richardson Levy of the 72nd Medical Group.

For two weeks following the attack thousands of Oklahomans from around the state and more than a 1,000 military and civilian personnel from Tinker Air Force Base participated in rescue, relief and recovery efforts.

While this attack shocked the nation and still remains the most deadly act of domestic terrorism, it also created a sense of selfless community that became known as the Oklahoma Standard and forged a bond between Tinker and the Oklahoma City community.

Twenty-five years later, the impact of the Murrah Building bombing remains a strong part of Oklahoma City’s identity. Not only do the bonds forged remain strong, but the memories — and scars — of the day of the attack and the days of recovery that followed remain in the minds of those whose lives were forever changed.

Described by all who knew her as an exemplary Airman, McRaven had been married four days prior to the bombing and was at the Murrah Building to obtain a new Social Security card. Prior to her assignment at Tinker, McRaven had a six-month deployment to Haiti in support of Operation Uphold Democracy.

For Don Koch, McRaven’s father, the day of the bombing is something he has never gotten over. As difficult as the memories of that day are, he said he does gain some relief in discussing them and believes that sharing the memories of his daughter and the others who lost their lives in the bombing were vital to ensuring that no one forgets as time passes.

“It’s not something you can ever just get over or recover from,” Koch said. “But, I do get some relief in talking about it. When it’s been 25 years, you don’t just want the memories to fade away. I think Oklahoma City has done a great job of honoring those memories at the Memorial.”

Like McRaven, Levy was also at the Social Security Office on April 19 when the truck bomb went off. Only 21 years old at the time of her death, Levy was a New Orleans native and had just moved to Oklahoma a few months before.

Her mother, Constance Favorite, said she was always immensely proud of the effort that Levy had put into being an Airman. While she was dedicated to her medical career in the Air Force, Levy was described as having a strong sense of humor and had expressed interest in being a stand-up comedian at some point.

“All the victims need to be remembered,” Favorite said. “She’s important to me and her family and friends, but all the victims need to be remembered. It’s only by God’s will that I’m where I am and I can talk about this. It will stick with me the rest of my life.”

Those who had loved ones killed or injured in the bombing were not the only ones whose lives were changed forever.

Within hours of the attack, personnel from across the base and organizations such as the 552nd Air Control Wing, Tinker Fire and Emergency Services, the 38th Engineering Installation Wing, the Navy and the then-Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center responded to the tragedy and were on site to provide support and serve as a focal point for incoming relief teams throughout the recovery process.

At the time, Ronald Brazer was a training manager with the 137th Security Forces Squadron at Will Rogers World Airport. When the bomb went off, Brazer recalled that it sounded as if a plane had crashed on the airfield. It wasn’t until he turned the television on while others were out investigating for the crash that he realized what was happening.

“When the explosion happened, it reverberated even though we were like 16 miles from ground zero,” Brazer said. “Because we were at the airport, we actually all were thinking that an airplane must have crashed at the airfield because that was the strength of the shockwave.”

Being an active duty Air National Guard member at the time, Brazer reported to the site to assist and provide relief support by transporting responders and supplies in a 48-passenger bus. He also supported the security perimeter erected around the response headquarters to ensure that only authorized personnel entered the site.

Like Brazer, Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex sheet metal mechanic Henderson Ray was performing his daily work routine in Bldg. 2121 when he heard the bomb explode and saw smoke on the horizon. Ray, an Oklahoma County reserve deputy assigned to the Patrol Division and Emergency Response Team, received an emergency message calling him to respond to the disaster.

As he was leaving, Ray recalled hearing a report over the radio that it was a bomb that had gone off in downtown Oklahoma City. Driving down to the site, he said he imagined it was the sort of small bomb that might have damaged the front of a building. The scene he found when arriving was nothing at all what he imagined it would be.

“I’m coming up on Broadway going to the west and I see these cars that are all pushed about and smashed in, and then when I got to the right elevation, I could see the building,” Ray said.

Describing the scene to a supervisor, Ray said that the only comparison he could bring to mind at the time was the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut. The blast had destroyed a third of the Murrah Building, as well as destroyed or damaged 324 other buildings within a 16-block radius and destroyed or burned more than 80 vehicles.

For days, Ray and others scoured the site for survivors. He said the damage to the remaining part of the building was so significant that responders needed to be careful to ensure they were not injured while searching for survivors.

Ray was also present at Tinker on the day that the authorities escorted McVeigh into the makeshift federal courtroom that was located in Bldg. 460. As the state’s only federal courthouse was damaged in the bombing, Tinker provided the site to allow for McVeigh’s arraignment.

“That was interesting to see his demeanor,” Ray said. “He just had his head up as if he was proud and defiant of what he had done.”

For 17 days Ray and others from Tinker worked around the clock with the rest of the first responders, first as part of the initial search and rescue operation and then the evidence recovery and crime scene protection operation that came as the FBI built their case.

“Tinker is and was part of the Oklahoma City community,” Ray said. “It’s unique in the way that Tinker has developed within the community and the amount of investment that the community has in Tinker, but this event showed that Tinker did and does step up for the community.”

While each year the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum hosts a Day of Remembrance, the ongoing novel coronavirus epidemic has resulted in the event being closed to the public to promote social distancing. Instead, the event can be seen broadcast from 8:30-9:30 a.m. April 19 on local news channels, as well as the Memorial’s website and Facebook page.

The hour-long ceremony always includes 168 seconds of silence in remembrance of the lives lost and the reading of each of the names. To view the event online, visit memorialmuseum.com or visit facebook.com/okcmemorial.