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  • Writer's pictureBriar Mitchell

Memories of 9/11

I was living in Los Angeles when the Twin Towers were hit. In the mornings, I would get to work really early, well before 6 am, just to beat the crazy traffic in that town. I worked in a high rise, near the airport, at the Howard Hughes Center, for an educational software company called Knowledge Adventure.

Sitting at my desk, going through the things I needed to get done that day, a friend of mine who worked there, came to get me and said I needed to see this.

Following him, wondering what was up, and assuming it was work related, was surprised to see a few other fellow employees jammed into a cubicle, watching a small B&W TV one of them had. We watched in horror, the smoking North Tower, and then, were stunned, as the second plane hit.

WHAT WAS HAPPENING?! Were we under attack? Were we at war?

Shortly after, security came through the building and told all of us we needed to go home. Our building was so close to LAX (Los Angeles airport) they were afraid the area might be targeted as well.

I was in such shock and stayed glued to my TV all day, like most of you I am sure, wondering what was happening and were we at war. The images are still etched so deeply in my mind and I grieve for those who suffered and lost so much that day. It was a senseless, brutal tragedy and for what? A political statement? Horrifying.

For ten years, I flew with the US Air Force, travelling all over the world to truly remote, amazing places so I could make sketches and gather ideas. Every two years, I would create a painting which would then go into the National Archives. They were not to showcase their ultra-cool flying machines or bases, but rather, the people. The Air Force is the people that make up that amazing group which does so much around the world to protect us, assist others in times of need, and support scientific endeavors around the globe.

That is me, in the center of the photo, standing on the frozen Ross Sea.

The painting I posted with this article, I created after travelling with the 22nd Air Lift Squadron all of the way down to McMurdo Base in the Antarctic. We stayed together for three weeks in Christchurch, New Zealand and completed three flights with them down to McMurdo. They were there to ferry scientists, personnel and supplies down to the base and it was my incredible privilege to go with them.

So, what does this have to do with 9/11?

Approximately three weeks after the tragedy, while the entire country was still so caught up in the searches for survivors, wondering why no bodies were being found and would we retaliate, I received a letter from the Air Force. They explained to me that my painting, which usually hung in that part of the Pentagon which the terrorists hit, had survived the attack.

The letter went on to say, that the painting was often loaned to other museums like the Smithsonian or entities like National Geographic, when they did specialty exhibits about the role of the military in places like Antarctica. The painting had been removed just the day before the attack to be reframed for one of those exhibits.

The Pentagon after the attack on 9/11.

Truly amazed that they had thought to let me know, I wrote back thanking them for the letter and told them I was glad that the painting survived, but I would have gladly sacrificed that instead of the people who died there at that day. I would have painted a thousand paintings if it could have stopped the horror of what happened.

I felt now like a part of me had been directly involved in what happened and it deepened my feelings of grief, but also strengthened my incredible gratitude that I live in the United States. I value the freedoms I have and for all of the travelling I have done, and different countries I've lived in, nothing feels as good as it feels like stepping back on US soil.

For all of the efforts those terrorists had to attempt to hurt us and fracture the country, their greed and heartless actions served instead to galvanize this country. Let the Stars and Stripes forever wave!

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