Jamie Norfleet loves her husband, but dealt with feelings of abandonment and the stress of military life when her husband was deployed to other nations.
Ret. Capt. Michael R. “Randy” Norfleet served in Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield as a Marine pilot. He also was deployed to NATO exercises, South America and Africa.
“It’s always stressful,” Mrs. Norfleet said. “There’s just no other way to put it … They (military families) have immense love and respect toward one another, but there is also the feeling of abandonment. I am doing this on my own because he’s gone. He felt like he was away and missing out on all the important things in the family. It pulls at you.”
After Desert Storm, Norfleet decided it was time to do a “Tour for Jamie.” He jumped at the chance to be the Marine Officer Recruitment Officer in Stillwater.
“It was an opportunity to feel like a real cohesive family,” Mrs. Norfleet said.
The Tour for Jamie started in the early 1990s.
Good family and career move
Because of his experience in Desert Storm and having to share flight time with other co-pilots, Norfleet sought the recruiting post in Oklahoma.
“I knew a recruiting tour was real good for your career,” he said.
“Jamie and I are from Oklahoma, and wanted to come back to Oklahoma. So, I jumped at the opportunity when it was given to me,” he said.
Meeting people in the recruiting area was part of the job. Norfleet decided he needed to attend a prayer breakfast in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. He said his wife was concerned he would be too tired to get up at 4:30 a.m. to make the 6:30 a.m. prayer breakfast.
Norfleet said he told her he would see how he felt when the alarm sounded.
“If I wake up at 4:30 and I’m really tired, I won’t go. If I wake up and I feel refreshed, I’m going to go. I woke up, I was refreshed.”
Norfleet drove to Oklahoma City.
Back in Stillwater
Mrs. Norfleet was seven months pregnant with the couple’s third child on April 19, 1995. Her husband had left Stillwater at 4:30 a.m. to attend a prayer breakfast at the Myriad Convention Center. The breakfast started at 6:30 a.m. Mrs. Norfleet didn’t know her husband had stopped by the Recruiting Station, Oklahoma City, 8th Marine Corps District after the prayer breakfast. The station had been in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building since 1977.
It was a beautiful spring day in Stillwater. She had taken her son, Matthew, to the Mother’s Day Out preschool at First United Methodist Church.
She was home. Her youngest child, Paul William, was in his high chair. Mrs. Norfleet was starting housework and planned to run errands later that day.
The Norfleets were members of First Baptist Church Stillwater. Mrs. Norfleet was part of a women’s Bible Study and prayer group. She received a call from one of the group’s members to activate the prayer chain to pray for the people who had been hurt or killed in an Oklahoma City explosion and their families.
“I had not turned the television on,” Mrs. Norfleet said. She didn’t know about the explosion. The caller filled in the details while she ran to the television to switch it on. Live scenes from downtown Oklahoma City were being provided from a news helicopter.
She realized it was the Murrah Building – a building the family had visited often.
“I immediately knew Randy was there. I really felt that it was the Lord that kinda let me know that,” she said.
She also knew her husband would want to go see his commander and see if he had any packages or paperwork waiting for him.
“I just dropped to the floor and fell to my knees,” she said. “I just remember saying out loud, ‘God, I will take him anyway I can get him. I don’t care how hurt he is or what happened. I’ll take him.’”
A wave of helplessness and guilt overwhelmed Mrs. Norfleet.
“The day before we had shampooed the carpet and I had fussed at him for coming into the house with mud on his running shoes,” she said.
She didn’t know how her husband could be alive after seeing the damaged building on television.
“I just knew there was going to be casualties and lots of them,” she said.
A cellular phone had been installed in the family pickup.
Mrs. Norfleet dialed the number. No answer.
She called the Red Cross, gave them information about her husband and her belief he may have been in the Murrah Building. She was advised to stay in Stillwater and wait for a call.
In Oklahoma City
Mrs. Norfleet knew her husband well.
After the prayer breakfast, Norfleet drove to the Murrah Building, and counted himself lucky to find a parking spot in front a big yellow moving truck parked in a loading zone.
“I thought it was a little bit strange – not that there was a Ryder truck there. A lot of Marines, soldiers and seamen would check into their command, and they would be doing a DITY move – a do-it yourself move. They would bring all their belongings in a truck, check in with command and get their orders.
“… What was unusual to me is that they had parked it right in front of the red loading zone in front of the building, and that was just not military … This guy just got out of the truck and ran across the street. I thought that was really weird. Why wouldn’t he go into the building,” Norfleet said.
Norfleet parked directly in front of the truck, headed into the Murrah Building and took the elevator to the sixth floor.
Operations clerk Sgt. Benjamin L. Davis was the first person he saw. After exchanging greetings, Davis asked the captain to call Headquarters Marine Corps to see if his meritorious commissioning package had come through. The selection board had met the day before. Norfleet had processed Davis package, and knew the results would be available.
Norfleet called. The line was busy.
He told Davis he would try again in five minutes, and walked down to see Recruiting Station Supply Clerk Sgt. Ted Snidecor. They had served together in Operation Desert Storm.
That’s when the 5,000 pound fertilizer bomb in the Ryder truck exploded, and the Murrah Building was reduced to a pile of rubble.
The clock read 9:02 a.m. The captain had been in the building two minutes. If the call about Davis’s commissioning package had gone through, Norfleet would have still been in the kill zone, and his story would have ended that day.
Instead, the concussion from the explosion made Norfleet’s vision gray out, but he didn’t lose consciousness. As shrapnel started to hit him, he threw his left arm over his left eye. Shrapnel shredded his arm. A large piece of glass lodged in his forehead and right eye. Several arteries were severed.
The glass facade of the building shattered first. Seconds later, the building started to collapse.
“The ninth floor shattered onto the eighth floor to the seventh floor,” Norfleet said.
Norfleet said he was thrown face first into the west wall. He fractured his skull, broke his nose and blacked out.
“I’m not really sure how long I was unconscious there on the floor,” he said. “It could have been a couple of seconds. It could have been a couple of minutes.”
It was deathly quiet when he came to. He could hear fire alarms going off in the distance. The dust had settled. He looked out of the building and saw the same blue sky and beautiful day that his wife noted in Stillwater.
“I was just in shock and trying to process all the changes,” he said.
Snidecor was relatively unscathed, and started tending to Norfleet. He cleared the debris from his desk, put Norfleet on it and started administering first aid.
“I realized if I stayed on the desk, I would die,” Norfleet said.
He got up and saw a bright red blood trail. He followed it to the back of the building and down the back stairs. He made it outside the Murrah Building. Where he was directed by an Oklahoma State trooper to ambulances waiting on the side of the building.
“I got to one of the first ambulances and got into the back,” he said.
An army sergeant with a broken leg got into the ambulance. The ambulance took the pair to St. Anthony’s Hospital two blocks away. He was taken directly into triage, surgery and the intensive care unit, he said.
“I found out later from the attending nurse in surgery that I had made her write my phone number on my arm three times. I was insistent that she get hold of my wife and tell her where I was,” he said.
Receiving the call
Mrs. Norfleet said she lost track of time. Four, maybe five hours after the Murrah Building bombing, she received a call from the Red Cross.
Her husband was alive.
“I just remember just being weak,” she said. “I thought I was going to collapse.”
A nurse said her husband was in critical condition, undergoing surgery and had a severe injury to one of his eyes. He was at St. Anthony’s Hospital in Oklahoma City.
“I remember feeling like I had won the lottery. … Even though with the news that he was critical and had severe injuries, it gave me hope,” she said.
It didn’t take long for Mrs. Norfleet and family members to drive from Stillwater to St. Anthony’s Hospital in Oklahoma City.
During the morning-long ordeal, she had started having contractions. When she arrived at the hospital, a nurse approached, and asked Mrs. Norfleet where she was going. Mrs. Norfleet replied she was going to see her husband who had been brought to the hospital from the Murrah Building.
Instead, the nurse ordered a wheelchair and Mrs. Norfleet was whisked to labor and delivery where doctors were able to stop the contractions. Their daughter, Morgan, was born two months later. Her birth was instrumental in Norfleet’s recovery and rehabilitation.
“It was at the point that you determine in your mind, ‘Am I going to be a victim and allow this tragedy to be a stumbling block for me, or am I going to overcome this tragedy in my life and use it as a stepping stone to the rest of my life?’” he said.
The Murrah Building bombing killed 168, including Davis, the Marine operations clerk. More than 800 were injured.
Norfleet recovered and retired from the Marines with 50 percent disability.
He testified in the trial of Timothy McVeigh in Denver, Colorado, in 1997, and was the only witness who could put McVeigh at the bombing scene.
“I was the second witness in the Timothy McVeigh trial,” he said.
McVeigh was convicted and executed by lethal injection in 2001.
The Norfleets live and work in Texas, and they try to find sense and meaning in the Oklahoma City bombing.
“I don’t believe in luck because I believe in providence” Norfleet said.
Norfleet said he and his fellow Marines believe in the Marine Corps, which gives sense and meaning to their wounds.
“If you don’t have that belief, then it’s just a loss, and there is no meaning to it,” he said.
The life Norfleet and his family had before the Oklahoma City bombing vanished April 19,1995. There isn’t anyway to return to it. The Norfleets have forged a new life, and encourage others with battle wounds and scars to do the same.
“There is a grieving process as we let go of our past life that we enjoyed and loved and we embrace a new normal that comes to us.”
Chris Day is managing editor of the Stillwater (Okla.) News Press.