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Clinton uses tree analogy for OKC's strength, courage and new beginnings

Marie Clark / Red Dirt Report
President Bill Clinton addresses attendees Sunday at the Remembrance Ceremony.
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FBI Director Comey vows to protect state residents from future acts of terrorism

OKLAHOMA CITY – Former U.S. President Bill Clinton compared Oklahoma City’s recovery from the 1995 federal building bombing as a tale of two trees.

“First, you have that one (Survivor Tree) which is tough, strong and endures,” he said. “Then, there’s the dogwood that Hillary and I planted at the White House before our trip to the Prayer Service 20 years ago.”

Clinton said the dogwood tree is known for signs of rebirth, new beginnings and second chances, much like Oklahoma City has done in the last two decades.

The Survivor Tree, an American elm, stands on the north side of the former Alfred P. Murrah federal building. Heavily damaged by the bomb, the tree survived after nearly being chopped down during the initial investigation when workers wanted to recover evidence hanging in its branches and embedded in its bark.

The force of the blast ripped most of the branches from the tree and fire from the cars parked beneath it blackened what was left. Most thought the tree could not survive. However, about a year later, family members, survivors and rescue workers gathered for a memorial ceremony and noticed the tree was beginning to bloom again.

Clinton was the keynote speaker at Sunday’s 20th Remembrance Ceremony in honor of the 168 people who were killed in the April 19, 1995 blast and the many survivors and their families. Other speakers include FBI Director James Comey, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, former Gov. Frank Keating, Gov. Mary Fallin, former Oklahoma City Mayor Ron Norick and Mayor Mick Cornett.

Clinton praised Oklahoma City leaders and residents for making wise choices since the bombing. The former president, who has made six trips to Oklahoma City for memorial related events, said he’s always been inspired by the city’s resilience and sense of renewal.

“You chose far-sighted love over hatred,” he said. “The whole world needs you now.”

Clinton and other speakers talked about Oklahoma City’s growth and progress since the bombing, but he went a step farther than everyone else.

“The material gains were incidental,” he said. “The progress came because of what you decided to do together.”

FBI Director Comey praised Oklahoma citizens for their willingness to help others.

“You ran towards darkness, pain and destruction,” he said, referencing the immense number of people who provided aid immediately after the bombing. “You ran because they are your friends. You were strong, fearless and unbending. You proved courage is stronger than fear and hope is stronger than grief.”

Comey also complimented Oklahomans for their desire to move forward.

“You sought good out of the darkness,” he said. “You stood with the people of New York and with the people of Boston. Evil is in the world, but I promise that we at the FBI will do all we must to stop this evil so you will never endure this again.”

Meanwhile, Johnson told the thousands of people attending Sunday’s remembrance event the “best homeland security is the character of a community. Terrorism cannot succeed if the people refuse to be terrorized.”

Johnson praised Oklahoma City, New York City and Boston for their willingness to provide aid and comfort during tragedies.

“So many of you rushed to the scene of the bombing,” he said, while mentioning the Oklahoma Standard, a branding that refers to Oklahomans’ willingness to help their neighbors.

Former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, who was in office 101 days when the bombing occurred, referred to the bombing as an “unspeakable horror and tragedy that is unforgiveable and unimaginable.”

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Tim Farley

Tim Farley is an award-winning journalist with more than 30 years of experience, including...

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