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Editorial: America's duty to help Oklahoma

The FDNY received a rescue truck from the

The FDNY received a rescue truck from the people of Oklahoma through the "Spirit of Oklahoma Challenge," which raised $450,000 to purchase the truck. FDNY chaplain Father Joseph Hoffman blessed the truck. Credit: Mayita Mendez, 2002

On a memorable day 11 years ago, grateful Oklahomans donated a red and white rescue truck to the New York City Fire Department, purchased with money donated by schoolkids and adults. Called the Spirit of Oklahoma, the truck was the Sooner State's way of thanking the FDNY for its help in 1995 with search and recovery work after a terrorist bomb claimed 168 lives in Oklahoma City.

But reflecting on that moment today -- in the aftermath of the horrific tornado that struck the Oklahoma city of Moore on Monday -- it seems that the rescue truck might just as easily have been called the Spirit of America.

This is a nation of countless competing regions and economies and cultures and religions and views -- a mix of passions and interests jostling and boiling in a union that is not always so perfect. But we still have a way of coming together to help each other with money, technical expertise, moral support -- and lives, if necessary -- when disaster strikes.

We can refresh our memories on this point with the story that begins on April 19, 1995, after terrorists brought down the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

The FDNY dispatched Deputy Chief Ray Downey of Deer Park to the scene. Leader of the FDNY's search and rescue team, he headed the effort to pull trapped, injured people from the tottering high-rise. "He was an inspiration of unrivaled expertise," said Oklahoma's governor.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Downey was killed at the World Trade Center -- just before the North Tower fell -- trying to help a man with an injured leg.

Oklahomans wanted to honor him and nine other New Yorkers who came to their rescue in April 1995 and lost their lives on 9/11. The Spirit of Oklahoma bears their names. But it also bears a tacit message: It now falls to all of us -- New Yorkers and others -- to do what we can to ensure Oklahomans get the aid they need for the painful recovery and reconstruction ahead. This message isn't about charity or even altruism. Mutual aid is what our country is all about. It's why the states became a nation. And it's where America still draws its strength.