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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Oklahoma City Marks Tragic Day

OKLAHOMA CITY -- There was something very different about this anniversary, something less raw and painful, and something perhaps even uplifting. And that is the way it was intended.

More than 1,600 survivors, relatives of victims and rescue workers came together Tuesday to mark the 10th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, an attack that took 168 American lives.

Although there were ample tears and poignant memories, the morning ceremony at First United Methodist Church -- which had served as a morgue after the bombing -- embraced renewal and remembrance.

"All humanity can see you experienced bottomless cruelty and responded with heroism," U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney told those gathered in the church. "Your strength was challenged, and you held firm. Your faith was tested, and it has not wavered."

The ceremony began just before 9 a.m. local time, a few minutes before the exact moment a Ryder rental truck packed with explosives was detonated in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on that day in 1995, shattering dreams and families.

As is the custom, 168 seconds of silence was observed at 9:02, followed by remarks from Cheney, Bill Clinton, who was president at the time of the bombing, and former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating.

Clinton received a prolonged standing ovation, whistles and cheers. "It seems almost impossible that it's been a decade, doesn't it. The memories are still so clear," he said.

"Yet, by the grace of God, time takes its toll not only on youth and beauty, but also on tragedy. The tomorrows come almost against our will. And they bring healing and hope, new responsibilities and new possibilities."

The past and the future were particularly apparent when the children of the victims, many of whom are young adults now, shared the reading of the names of the dead -- including the names of their own parents.

About 40 survivors of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks made the trip, as did many of the rescue workers who descended on Oklahoma City from around the country to help 10 years ago.

Clinton joked about the "survivor tree" -- a frail Elm that was left broken and charred by the bombing but is now flourishing. "Boy, that tree was ugly when I first saw it," he said to much laughter. "But survive it did."

President George W. Bush said in a statement that Oklahoma City "will always be one of those places in our national memory where the worst and the best both came to pass."

After the church service, hundreds of mourners with flowers, framed photographs and stuffed animals streamed across the street to the memorial park where the building once stood. There, 168 empty chairs are a permanent monument representing the lives lost.

Relatives of the dead, survivors and rescue workers hugged and wept and reminisced on the grass, sharing a bond forged by loss.

"It's always difficult as each year comes because I come to know more families and understand their loss," said Diane Leonard, who lost her husband in the blast.