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Remembering our own: Tinker Airmen among 168 victims

The sun sets on the Oklahoma City Memorial site.  One of the Gates of Time lights up to reveal the moment just after the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was bombed.  The site of the Reflecting Pool leading west toward this gate was once N.W. 5th St., with the Murrah Building just to the left.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Mark Hybers)

The sun sets on the Oklahoma City Memorial site. One of the Gates of Time lights up to reveal the moment just after the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was bombed. The site of the Reflecting Pool leading west toward this gate was once N.W. 5th St., with the Murrah Building just to the left. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Mark Hybers)

The Field of Empty Chairs lights up in the evening to reveal the names of all 168 people who perished in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building the morning of April 19, 1995.  (Photo courtesy/ Parker Pearson)

The Field of Empty Chairs lights up in the evening to reveal the names of all 168 people who perished in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building the morning of April 19, 1995. (Photo courtesy/ Parker Pearson)

The Field of Empty Chairs casts its reflection in the Reflecting Pool.  Nineteen years ago the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building stood in that field and overlooked what was once N.W. 5th St.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Mark Hybers)

The Field of Empty Chairs casts its reflection in the Reflecting Pool. Nineteen years ago the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building stood in that field and overlooked what was once N.W. 5th St. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Mark Hybers)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- The bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, claimed 168 lives, including two young Airmen from Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma.

Airman 1st Class Lakesha Richardson Levy from the 72nd Medical Group and Airman 1st Class Cartney McRaven from the 32nd Combat Communications Squadron were inside the building when the Ryder truck exploded at 9:02 a.m.

It has been said that by talking about and remembering loved ones, it keeps their memories alive. 

Airman 1st Class Lakesha Richardson Levy

Airman Levy, who grew up in New Orleans, had been married for a year and, according to her mother, was at the Murrah building to get a new Social Security card. Airman Levy was married to Cory Levy and they had a son, Cory Levy II.

“Lakesha was a very humorous and family oriented person,” said the Airman’s mother, Constance Favorite. “She was a caretaker to everyone.”

Ms. Favorite said in high school, Lakesha coordinated efforts with her classmates to send care packages to the Soldiers during Desert Storm.

“During the trial, I remember thinking that Timothy McVeigh might have received one of her care packages and that was how he was going to pay her back,” she said.

Ms. Favorite said Lakesha would have made the best Airman.

“She called me once from boot camp and didn’t think she would graduate because she couldn’t finish the laps,” Ms. Favorite said. “I told her she could do it if she just gave 110 percent.

Lakesha called later — and I already knew she did it — but she told me, ‘I just needed to be encouraged to do it.’ I said, ‘I’m your mother, I knew you could do it.’”

Airman Levy’s family attended her graduation from basic training. Ms. Favorite said she was so proud of her and said Lakesha put her hat on and marched so proudly, just like the other Airmen.

“Lakesha used to say, ‘I’m not going to be something — I’m going to be somebody,’” said Ms. Favorite.

And she was somebody to the Airmen who knew her. One of them was Carlos Ortiz, who met Airman Levy in basic training. The two became fast friends. Airman Levy knew a secret Mr. Ortiz carried. He was gay in the military when it was not all right to be gay.

“She once pulled me aside and said, ‘If anyone bothers you just let me know and I’ll take care of it,’” said Mr. Ortiz. “I knew I immediately found a friend … for life. I will always remember her for that.”

Mr. Ortiz said he later learned from others that Airman Levy wanted to become a comedian.

“I didn’t know that about her because she was serious when it came to being in the military and studying during training,” he said. “I knew her protective, motherly side.”

Retired Capt. Erick Anderson, who also went through training with Airman Levy said she was like “a beautiful shooting star you see on the perfect night.”
“She made an impression on you that even time can’t erase,” he said. “I miss my little sister and think of the great times we had often.”

Ms. Favorite, who still lives in New Orleans, said when she’s in Oklahoma City she visits the Memorial site and tries to imagine her child going into that building.

“She was probably first in line at the social security office,” said Ms. Favorite. “All the victims need to be remembered. She’s important to me and her family and friends, but all the victims need to be remembered.

“It’s only by God’s will that I’m where I am and I can talk about this,” she said. “It will stick with me the rest of my life.”

Airman 1st Class Cartney McRaven

According to retired Chief Master Sgt. Kimberly Harris, who was the superintendent of the 32nd Combat Communications Squadron in 1995, Airman McRaven was a model Airman, outstanding both as an Airman and as a person. In fact, she was the 1994 Group Airman of the Year.

Former 32nd Combat Communications Squadron commander, then Maj. Vincent Valdespino, also speaks very highly of Airman McRaven. He remembers her as a very happy, upbeat, positive person who always saw the bright side of things.

“Cartney was a model Airman with a can-do attitude, and though she was young, she was able to make things happen,” said Mr. Valdespino. “I always liked and respected that about her.”

Mr. Valdespino got to know Airman McRaven during their deployment to Haiti in support of “Uphold Democracy” from November 1994 to April 1995.

“We were all working 12-hour shifts, and even in the off times, Cartney spent time helping out at the orphanage in Port-au-Prince,” he said. “The group sent care packages and volunteered their time playing with the children or helping with their English classes.”

Ms. Harris, who worked in the 72nd Air Base Wing Communications Directorate, recalled that Airman McRaven had just returned from that six-month deployment to Haiti and her fiancé, Shane, had also returned from a deployment to Bosnia.

The couple was married on April 15, just four days before bombing. Airman McRaven was at the Social Security Office in the Murrah building to change her name.

“I treated her like one of my own kids,” said Mr. Valdespino. “When she came in and told me she had gotten married, I scolded her for not waiting. She was just 19 years old and had her life ahead of her.”

A few days after the bombing, Airman McRaven’s family came to Oklahoma City.

“I got to know her family, and we would meet with them every day wearing our battle dress uniforms, but one day we showed up at the hotel in our dress blues and her mom knew,” said Mr. Valdespino.

Airman McRaven was one of the last victims to be located amongst the rubble.

A group from the 3rd Herd attended Airman McRaven’s funeral.

“It was very special that we got to be there—it was a very touching moment,” he said.

Remembering the Airmen

• On April 19, 1996, Tinker officials erected a monument in honor of Airmen Levy and McRaven at the Wright Flyer park on Arnold Street.

• In August 1995, the 72nd Medical Group dedicated a monument made from a piece of granite from the Murrah building to Airman Levy.

• The 552nd Air Control Wing planted a redbud tree at Connie Park in memory of the two victims. Mike Sanders, an AWACS civil engineering technician, and his two daughters helped plant the tree in honor of his wife, Sonja, who also died in the Murrah tragedy.

Brig. Gen. Silas R. Johnson Jr., former 552nd Air Control Wing commander, noted that the plaque, “Not only reminds us of the bombing site but also of the impact of this event. We mark here our commitment to the future by acknowledging that which we value in the past.”

• A Child Development Center at Ellsworth AFB, S.D., is named after Airman 1st Class Cartney Koch McRaven.

(The information for this article was gathered from direct interviews and ‘The Oklahoma City Bombing’ report courtesy of the Tinker AFB Historian’s office.)

(Story was originally published April 16, 2015, in the Tinker Take Off. Click HERE to view story.)