Randy Norfleet - My Lucky Day
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Show 1713: Randy Norfleet - My Lucky Day
Air Date: March 26, 2017
Rob McClendon: Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining us for this special edition of “Oklahoma Horizon.” Well, April 19, 1995, is a date that for those of us in Oklahoma brings up similar feelings that 9-11 does for the country. But unlike 9-11, this was an attack not by some foreign agents but one of our own – shaking the very safety and security that you feel living here in the middle of America. Today, we take you back to the moments before the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City to a time when we were all 20 years younger and still naive to the hatred that was about to strike the heartland.
Rob McClendon: For Marine Capt. Randy Norfleet and his wife, Jamie, April 19, 1995, could not have started off better.
Jamie Norfleet: I remember you saying you thought it was your lucky day because you just got a prime parking spot.
Randy Norfleet: And I thought it was my lucky day because it was about 9 a.m., and I had gotten a front row parking spot.
Rob: In downtown Oklahoma City at the Murrah Federal Building.
Randy: I noticed this yellow Ryder truck in front of the Oklahoma City federal building, and I thought it a little bit strange. What was unusual to me was that they had parked it right in front of the red loading zone of the building. And that was just not military, for somebody, for a military person to park in a non-parking zone. And the guy got out of the truck and ran across the street.
Rob: Because inside sat a 5,000-pound fertilizer bomb set to explode within minutes. Unaware, Norfleet heads up to the Marine recruiting station on the sixth floor.
Randy: Now, what was unusual about me coming into the building that morning is that normally I would stop by the restroom to check my uniform was correct, that I looked good, before I went in to go see everybody. But for this morning, I didn’t stop by there. I just walked straight into the operations office, and I ran into a young Marine and his name was Sgt. Benjamin Davis.
Rob: An enlisted Marine who Norfleet had helped take his boards to become an officer.
Randy: He was like, “Capt. Norfleet, can you call headquarters Marine Corps and find out if I was selected for this board?” And so I called, and I got a busy signal, and I hung up the phone and I looked at Sgt. Davis and I said, “You know what, I, I’ll come back in five minutes, all right?” Because, you know, we all think we’ve got another five minutes. I walked into the, to the following, to the next office over that was our supply department, and the next thing I know a big explosion goes off.
[explosion and glass breaking sounds].
Randy: The concussion of the bomb made my vision go out, but it didn’t knock me unconscious. As the shrapnel started to hit me I was able to throw my left arm in front of my left eye, which saves me and put shrapnel all through my arm. But I had a big piece of glass that came and it cut open, cut my forehead and lodged in my right eye. The glass facade of the building shattered first and came in first, but the explosion of the bomb shattered the support columns of the building. And so the building started to collapse on each other. And so as the eighth, ninth, seventh floors hit the sixth floor, the impact of that threw me into the west wall of the Oklahoma City federal building. It left me unconscious. It fractured my skull and broke my nose. And I was left bleeding, what I found out later was, with two open arteries there in the building. I’m not really sure for how long I was unconscious, but when I woke up it was just -- to me, it was deathly quiet. All I could hear were the fire from all the cars in the parking lot that were on fire and off in the distance, I could hear fire alarms going off. But there where we were locally, it was just deathly quiet.
Rob: Everything and everyone from where Norfleet had just been moments before – now gone.
Randy: I just remember looking out over the building and seeing that clear Oklahoma sky, just right from the sixth floor.
Rob: Where there was building before.
Randy: Where there had been building before, yeah. It was just, you know, I was just in shock and just, just trying to process all of the changes.
Rob: Back in their home in Stillwater, Randy’s wife, Jamie, was unaware of the tragedy unfolding around her husband.
Jamie Norfleet: I was expecting our third child and, uh, a little girl.
Randy: She was seven months pregnant.
Jamie: I was seven months pregnant. The phone rang, and I picked it up. So we had a prayer chain – if something was going on or something, we would, you know, start calling each other and telling. “Jamie, you know, there’s been an explosion in Oklahoma City, and so we just, you know, we need to just start praying for those that are there in Oklahoma City affected by it.”
News Reporter: The side of the federal building has been blown off.
Jamie: And I turned the television on and could see immediately the building. I just dropped the phone and just dropped to my knees. And, uh, I knew he was there. And I just remember saying out loud, I said, “God, I’ll take him any way I can get him. I don’t care how hurt he is or what happened. I’ll, I’ll take him.”
Rob: Upstairs, on what was left of the sixth floor of the Murrah Federal Building, a fellow Marine had moved Randy on top of a desk.
Randy: So he looked at me and he said, “You know, Capt. Norfleet, you, you don’t look good.” And so he had been an infantry Marine with me there in Desert Storm, so immediately his Marine Corps training kicked in, and he took charge – he was a Marine in charge. But while I was laying there on that desk with two open arteries, and I was bleeding out like so many in that building did, I realized that if I stayed on this desk that I would die. I got up from the desk, and really all I could see was at this point was just looking down below me and what I saw was a bright red, you know, when blood is still oxygenated it’s bright red, and so I followed that blood trail to the back of the building and, you know, it was just the miracle of all miracles that the back stairs were intact. And so I walked down six flights of stairs. And I think I got into one of the first ambulances, and they took me to St. Anthony’s Hospital, which was just two blocks away.
Jamie: Word got out and of course, Randy’s secretary there at the recruiting station here in Stillwater knew Randy’s itinerary, and so she alerted the other Marines that were here, and they came to the house. But because, you know, knowing some protocol, and Randy and I have lost some dear friends in the Marines, so I knew when the Marines, you know, came to the door, and I told ’em, “You’re not coming in.” I am, “Don’t come in here. Do not come in this house.” So they were so precious because they literally started hollering out, “ Mrs. Norfleet, Mrs. Norfleet we don’t know anything. We’re not here to tell you any news. We don’t have any news yet. All communication is down with the phone systems right now in that building.” So at that point, I opened ’em in, opened the door and let ’em in and I was happy to see ’em. So it was like, they weren’t crossing that threshold until they said that they weren’t coming to tell me bad news. I know that sounds a little strange, probably a little crazy, but it was almost like a defense mechanism that it was like if I could keep them on the other side of that door they couldn’t tell me something I didn’t want to hear.
Rob: Arriving at the hospital critically injured, Capt. Randy Norfleet went straight into triage.
Randy: When I checked in, my blood pressure was 50 over zero and he said, “If you hadn’t have gotten to St. Anthony’s in the time that you did, you probably would have been the 169th victim of the Oklahoma City federal building.”
Rob: Yet despite his condition, Randy had only one thing on his mind.
Randy: The nurse, the attending nurse there in surgery, I had made her write my phone number on her arm three times, and I was insistent that she got a hold of my wife and tell her where I was at.
Jamie: I get a call, and they have found Randy. He is alive. And I just remember just being weak. I just thought I was gonna collapse just with this relief. And I remember feeling like I had won the lottery just because even though with the news of he’s critical and he’s had some severe injuries, I just was, it gave me hope.
Rob: Jamie headed to the hospital in record time – a journey that still haunts her today.
Jamie: We passed by the building. I rolled that window down, and when I saw that building I, I didn’t know how anyone could live. A lot of people didn’t live. And I think the worst, this is probably the hardest memory, one of the hardest memories I have –there were mothers lining the area in which they could be, and I can remember them some of the children were being brought out, and they were beginning to lay ’em on the side of the sidewalk. But one of the moms called out and said, “Don’t lay our babies on that glass.”
Rob: Jamie made it through the traffic and the chaos surrounding the bombing site, determined to see her husband two blocks away.
Jamie: I remember walking up to the front of St. Anthony’s, and there was crowds of people, they had pictures of their loved ones.
Rob: Hoping against all hope for a miracle.
Jamie: That’s the thing for something like this, is the worst is not knowing and not being able to deal with, with what’s happening and not being able to find your loved one. And I remember thinking I’m blessed to know that Randy’s inside this hospital.
Rob: But that reunion was yet to be.
Jamie: A nurse, as I am waiting for an elevator spots me and says, “Where might you be going?” I’m heading in to see my husband he was brought in from the building. And she said, “Are you uh, you look like you’re in pain.” And I said, “Yeah, I think I’ve been having some contractions for a few hours, but I’ve got to go check on my husband.” And she said, “Well, let, we’ll, we will check on him, but let’s go see about you first.” So I got put into a wheelchair, and I got sent to labor and delivery.
Randy: They were able to stop the contractions with Jamie, and our daughter Morgan was born two months later at full-term. And so we, we’ve always called her the bombing baby. And, and my little joke is, you know, dads rarely get any attention, and so, this was my big day – I had been blown up, been injured, had all of this attention – and here my daughter is trying to take my day from me, right. And so fortunately, she was kind enough to have her own day and to let me have mine.
Rob: Which turned into months of recovery. Capt. Randy Norfleet’s injuries were severe. Now, blind in his right eye, he never piloted a plane again. But rather than dwell on the past, the Norfleets looked to the future.
Randy: So at the time, you know, you’re in that part of your life where you’re picking up the pieces. You know, you determine in your mind am I going to be a victim and allow this tragedy to be a stumbling block to me, or am I going to overcome this tragedy that has been in my life and use it as a stepping stone to the next part of my life?
Rob: Fully aware that this was indeed his lucky day, with one less empty chair memorializing the victims of the bombing and one more name on a wall of the survivors whose lives also changed on April 19, 1995.
Randy: You know what, I probably need to track him down.