This is how I remember the 4th of July. Probably the best way to remember this great day as a photographer….
Back in 2001, I remember waking up early in the morning for work and thinking about the day. I was thinking about what to have for lunch. I had about a gallon of fresh water, a bag of chips, 2 sandwiches and a couple candy bars.
As I left the apartment, I continued to go south on PCH also known as Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach. Surfers were out and seagulls were finding breakfast. I went through the normal stop lights on my way to work and as always, I enjoyed cruising in my 2001 Silver Mustang GT which I had for a few years.
I loved to hear the American V8 rumble occasionally and cruise to Johny Cash or some Hank Williams, Jr. (I’m 33 years old but I grew up with 8 tracks and records – thanks to my uncles….)
As I got to work, the normal routine of checking in with security, parking, safety glasses, hard hat and so forth commenced. It was easy to smell the beach and sometimes the hardest part was going up to level 3 and seeing everyone having a great time right across PCH. We had our group meeting and what we needed to accomplish during the day and plans for the week.
I wore my favorite Quiksilver T-shirt and Levi Jeans along with my steel toe boots by Wolverine and my red Carhartt long sleeve. Work began on the Edison/AES power plant just south of the Huntington Beach pier in Orange County. We were rebuilding the structure and sparks were flying from grinders and welders were strengthening the old beams.
A few hours had passed by and I noticed quite a few workers responding to text messages and phone calls and I was wondering what was going on. Seeing a lot of folks on their cell phones was unusual since we had a lot of work.
I made a run to the tool room to get more grinding discs, ear plugs, and face shields and there, on a little 12” color TV, surrounded by about 35 workers, we watched one of the worst events take place before us.
I couldn’t see much but over heard that an airplane was hijacked and it crashed into one of the Twin Towers in New York City. As minutes went by, more and more people came to the tool shed and right in that moment, I saw on TV, the second plane hit.
It was unbelievable. “I was thinking no way man, no way! This can’t be real, that’s gotta be a movie!!!” And surely within minutes, more phones rang and I overheard Thomas’ radio go off “to get his crew off the damn unit.”
Then more and more radio’s received the same direction. We had a quick safety meeting to make sure we had everyone in our crew present. We were instructed to go home for a few days to eliminate the risk of accidents on the job from possible attacks. We all went home for about 5-6 days and continued to watch the aftermath take place.
As I left work that day, I was in shock and didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t scared or going crazy by any means but just shocked and couldn’t say much. It was a very, very quite ride home in my favorite car. No music, no cool breeze to feel and for the first time, I didn’t enjoy cruising the car. Normally at this time of day, beach goers were out already with beach cruiser bikes, usually a lot of surfers riding the waves and people running their dogs on PCH. On September 11th, it was not the case.
This was what I remembered about that day. It was a day of reverence and prayer. It was a week off from work and during that week I saw families, neighbors, church groups, and just people supporting the families of the lost loved ones. I remember Beach Blvd was packed with people in certain corners holding signs of their love and condolences for those that were afflicted from all the events that occurred on 9/11.
On one corner, there were all nationalities uniting and about 200 people gathered together. Among them was one little kid, probably about 8 or 9 years old. He yelled at me as I drove by. He had 2 signs bigger than him. As he was flashing them, he yelled at me and waved the one that read “Honk your horn for our hero’s that protect this country!!!” The other sign read, “My dad is my hero and a Marine.” I honked my horn for the little guy, a little teary eyed, revved the motor, let her scream and burned a few treads off for that little boy. He was happy and so was I.
A few years had passed since the week of 9/11. By this time, I was meeting people from all over the world and taking photography tours into the Slot Canyons found on the Navajo Reservation. March was a month to look forward to every year as people began to enjoy the sunshine and warmer days. April opened the doors for the monsoon season and May was the beginning of families coming on vacation. June temperatures were always in the high 80’s and 90’s with a lot of boaters in town. July has always reminded me of warriors and hero’s and of course, those two signs from Huntington Beach, California. Leading photographers into the slot canyons was busier than ever. I enjoyed it.
David had been planning his Southwest photography excursion to find a particular photograph that I knew about. In fact, perfectly. His descriptions of what the photo contained as far as colors, lighting and rock structure, were of no difficulty to find. I had been to the location hundreds and thousands of times. David, like you and I, will probably never forget 9/11.
I always wonder how is he ever going to forget that day. How can he? Well on September 11th, David, along with many others, was at ground zero. He was running in and out of buildings as a paramedic working in a storm of ash and rubble. He was one of many heroes that we know. On one rescue, he and his team rushed into a building and began to remove fallen racks of items and pieces of the shattered building. As he was digging, David heard a young girl begging for help. Feeling determined not to lose her, he requested more help from others nearby. This was an emotional moment for him, trying to find her and keep her alive.
As each minute flew by, they began to feel like days. Finally after ninety minutes, she was able to be lifted and carried to shelter and receive medical attention. Both of her legs were broken and she had fractures throughout her left arm. Racing against the clock for her survival, in the midst of rushing outside to safety, he glanced around and saw something. While looking, he wondered how could such a beautiful place could exist on a day like 9/11. Prior to this event, David had never felt such comfort at any time in his life of an assurance for his well-being and for those around him. He felt a powerful indescribable feeling that guaranteed him life and felt a promise that the young girl would live to see many more days.
David later wrote me through emails, he had never felt such peace, comfort and strength than at that moment in his life. He also mentioned the young girl was able to walk again and despite a few scars, she is ever grateful for David and those that saved her. On that day, he made a promise to himself that he would search the world to find what he saw on September 11th.
After many emails, the day finally came and it was on July 3rd. We met for the first time. We had emailed each other a few times over the winter and I assured him his trip out west would be better in the summer and not another time of the year.
This was a tour I will never forget.
We were moving throughout the slot canyon photographing the various colors and formation. Occasionally, David would ask, “When is it going to happen? I can’t miss this!!! Where is it going to be at?” About 50 minutes into my photography tour, we were heading back to where we had started. Near the entrance of the slot canyon. He thought we were leaving. I didn’t make mention of what the next exposure time was going to be or the best aperture to use like I had previously recommended.
He followed and said, “Hey, we can’t leave yet.” I said, “I know, we’re not. We’re going to set up for the next image.” As he was close by, I asked to see his camera to look over a few things and he gave it to me and we walked for about 60 yards. We slowed down and I remembered all of his details he explained through the emails.
At that moment I asked David to turn around. He did and his personage took on a different appearance for the first 5 seconds. He was full of joy and the tears began to run down his face. He saw it. He paused for about 15 seconds. The world felt like it had stopped. We were motionless. At the end of his gaze, he shook my hand in a strong grip and simply said “Thank you Mylo, thank you so much. This was what I saw and what I wanted to see again.”
After his attempt to stand longer to watch, his legs began to shake a little and he sat against the rocks. Leaning back on it, covering his face, he wiped tears away. A different feeling was in the air. It was a humbling experience. His hands were shaking and trembling still so I offered to take 3 photographs for him which I did. We had finished the tour and left better people.
After visiting and leading thousands of photography tours and for the first time it was my turn to take a photo. I loaded one sheet of film that night after David’s departure and on the next day, July 4th, I took the very same photograph that illuminated David’s life and titled it “Heaven’s Tender Mercy.”
Happy 4th of July. It still means something….
Mylo, Anita, Denali James and Aurora Winter.
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