FORMER commander of McVeigh and Nichols reflects on bombing

Wednesday, July 11th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

KINGSPORT, Tenn. (AP) _ The officer who commanded Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols in the Army cannot reconcile the image of the young soldiers he knew with the convicted perpetrators of the worst terrorist act on U.S. soil.

George Hutchinson, who commanded the company where McVeigh and Nichols first met, talked Monday to the Downtown Kingsport Optimist Club and the Kingsport Times-News.

Hutchinson said that McVeigh was quiet and clean-cut, while Nichols was the company's ``Radar'' _ always taking care of the vehicles.

Hutchinson said that while McVeigh and Nichols commonly read Soldier of Fortune magazine and weapons field manuals, their behavior was not conspicuous.

``I kept asking myself, 'Was there anything I should have known?''' Hutchinson said. ``But there wasn't anything abnormal from anybody else.''

McVeigh was convicted on 11 counts of murder and conspiracy in connection with the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. He was executed by lethal injection June 11 at a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind. Nichols, convicted as a conspirator in the bombing, which killed 168 people, was sentenced to life in prison.

``The shocking thing is that Nichols used to bounce my daughter on his knee,'' Hutchinson said. ``It has just frustrated me.''

He said dealing with the bombing has at times been tough.

``Two soldiers that I knew _ that I had spent 18 months with day in and day out _ were responsible for the worst terrorist act ever done in America,'' Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson, who retired from the Army as a major, is now the manager of a Kingsport retail store. He said he has declined several television interviews.

``How could you kill a child?'' Hutchinson said regarding the 19 children killed in the bombing. ``He could have gotten his point across just as well if he had blown it up at 3 a.m.''

Hutchinson said McVeigh's execution has rekindled his memories.

``Any man who can face death and basically brag about going to hell, something's not all there,'' Hutchinson said.