The first Boston Marathon was held in April 19, 1897, “Patriots’ Day,” a holiday commemorating the Revolutionary War, which is recognized only in Massachusetts and Maine. But most Americans will remember the Boston Marathon held on April 15, 2013, the day two pressure cooker-bombs killed three people and injured an estimated 265 others.
For me, it was just like any other day, except that my middle daughter Irene, a technical support engineer who lives in Boston, was running in the marathon for her sixth time and I kept thinking about her. A few minutes after 2 p.m. local time, a phone call from my first-born Susanne, a violinist with Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, gave me shivers.
“Mom, are you watching the news?” she asked.
“Don’t panic, okay?” she said. “It’s about the Boston Marathon! About 20 minutes ago, bombs went off at the finish line....”
“What?” I cut her off. “Is Irene okay?”
“I’m sure she’s OK,” Susanne said, trying not to worry her elderly mom. “But we don’t know yet. Three people have been killed and more than 200 are injured.”
I must have screamed, because she again cautioned me not to panic. “I’ll call you as soon as I hear something from her.” She added that she had been on the phone the last 10 minutes, but couldn’t get through her sister or her friends. “But don’t worry yet!”
The phone clicked. How I felt for the rest of the day isn’t important here. The following is Irene’s own account of her ordeal that began with the first explosion.
“As I turned the corner onto Boylston Street, I heard a loud explosion and thought a cannon just went off to celebrate The Patriots Day. The last mile of the 26.2-mile-marathon had been both exhausting and exciting for me, because wall-to-wall crowds cheered and shouted encouragements. But the sound of the explosion was much louder than human voices. Within seconds, I could see the finish line and was overwhelmed with relief. All around me, people were gleefully screaming, some giving me ‘high fives’, as I ran toward my final destination. Then I heard the second explosion, and this time, I saw a pillar of brown cloud of debris leaping to the sky. I thought it must be a crew demolishing a building nearby and wondered why the city would allow it on a day like this. More shouts came, telling us to stop. I dismissed what I heard and kept going. And then, a sea of policemen was chasing us, yelling, ‘Stop! Don’t go any further!’
“I stopped as others did, thinking the delay would be only momentary and that I would be finishing the race in no time and collecting my medal, too. We kept asking one another what’s going on but no one had an answer; we were all tired and cold, yet we wanted to go back to run that last 0.2 mile! We didn’t run all those 26 miles for this nonsense!
“Then we heard someone saying that a few people were injured, but we were skeptical. The sounds of helicopters overhead startled us all. Then followed the wails of ambulances, police sirens, fire trucks. Within seconds the bomb squad vehicles showed up before our eyes. Policemen were now herding other runners away from the finish line.
“My fear worsened when I saw a couple crying and following the runners who were steered away from the finish line. The man said loudly, ‘People are seriously injured over there, bleeding! Some have lost their limbs!’
“We panicked. Like other runners, I followed the crowd, not knowing where I was heading. I must have been crying and trembling, too, because strangers took off their coats and jackets and wrapped me and told me not to cry. Our walk ended in front of a Dunkin’ Donuts on Massachusetts Avenue and we filed in. The manager, a man in his 30s, welcomed and offered us hot drinks and donuts, all free!
What I remember most of that horrible day is not the evil or fear toward the terrorists, but the sadness toward those killed or injured, and the warmth and the courage of the people showed toward one another, offering helping hands, comforting, and embracing.
For the 2014 Boston Marathon, both Irene and Susanne ran. Susanne recalled: “Upon hearing Irene’s voice long after the news of the bombings and finally hearing that she was safe, I vowed I will run beside her for the 2014 marathon. I was fortunate to not only be one of 9,000 additional runners who joined that year, but like many others, I also helped raise funds for Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, which provided intensive rehabilitative therapy for the 2013 bombing survivors — by organizing a benefit concert, charity auction, and simple donation requests — raising $7,000. Every person and business I approached donated either money or items for auction. It was amazing! And as for the actual race months later, from the moment I stepped foot in Boston until I crossed the finish line, I had a tremendous sense of purpose and joy. The people of Boston welcomed us runners with genuine warmth and gestures of gratitude. What I will remember is the Spirit of America that stood up against the evil of terrorism.”
Retired musician and freelance columnist Therese Park has written three novels about Korea’s modern history.