Many of them did not think hard about what they were seeing as they searched for survivors of the Oklahoma City bombing.
"Our hands were working, but a higher power was in control," recalled Mark Damon, an Oklahoma City paramedic. "You were operating on adrenaline, falling back on instinct."
Only later did it sink in. The rescuers would recall the terrified eyes pleading for help from under piles of concrete and reinforcing bar. When they closed their eyes at night, they would see the babies covered in dust and soot. They would think of the people who did not make it out of the Alfred P. Murrah Building alive.
Damon woke up screaming last week, more than six years after the April 19, 1995, blast that killed 168 people. He sought counseling a year after the bombing when he realized his pent-up emotions were wrecking his family life.
Damon, who works for Emergency Medical Service Authority, has no desire to see McVeigh's lethal injection. He has seen enough death.
"Are we ever going to stop the killing?" he said. "This is just causing bloodlust. Here we are in the buckle of the Bible Belt and people want to see him die. When they walk to church on Sunday with a Bible under their arm, they're forgetting things like 'Thou shalt not kill.'"
Some of those who saw McVeigh's damage firsthand think the bomber should spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement.
"His one life is nowhere near compensation for the other 168 lives he's taken," said Midwest City paramedic Johnny Griffith. "I'd like it if he lived to a ripe old age of 100 years in solitary with nothing to do but think. Before, I could have easily choked the life out of him wit my own hands. Now I have no purpose to see him die."
Griffith stayed with one survivor for five hours until she was removed. The worst memory he has is of finding a tiny shoe and a little carton of milk that was still cold.
The children in the day-care center were having breakfast when McVeigh parked a Ryder truck containing a fertilizer bomb just below their second-floor window.
"I went through a period after that where I couldn't be around little kids," Griffith said. "I would just start crying."
Griffith won the right to see the closed-circuit broadcasts of the federal trials of McVeigh and Terry Nichols. He did not ask to see the execution.
Six years after the bombing, counseling for rescue workers still goes on monthly in Stillwater, and still draws people coming for the first time, said the Rev. Joe Williams, chaplain for the FBI.
"The rescue community are secondary victims," he said. "They've taken it upon themselves like a sponge."
Many rescue workers left the profession after the bombing. One Oklahoma City police officer credited with saving at least four people committed suicide a year after the explosion. Friends said he was wracked with guilt because an injury kept him from saving more people.
Even rescue dogs were depressed. The dogs, trained to find live victims, were finding only dead ones. One trainer had a rescue worker hide in the Murrah building just so his dog could find a live person.
But, rescue workers say, what they went through doesn't compare to the grief felt by those who lost loved ones.
"Despite all the horrors that we had to deal with, we didn't lose a family member, we didn't lose a child, we didn't lose a parent," said Michael Murphy, who was an EMSA field supervisor in 1995.
Murphy will be getting ready for work at 7 a.m. Wednesday, the time McVeigh is supposed to die. He said he will try not to think about him, hoping the news coverage about the bombing will finally end.
Midwest City Fire Capt. Jody Williams said he won't lose any sleep over McVeigh's execution: "I think it's justice well-served."
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