Untitled, Pencil on Paper, 18" x 20", Richared J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**
I was not and am not a fan of George W. Bush or many of his policies. I consider certain people who served in his administration war criminals. Mr. Bush had a number of flaws in leadership and judgment, in my opinion, some of which predated the attacks on 9/11 and others which were prominently displayed in later years. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, however, Mr. Bush had the wherewithal, in my view, to show empathy for the families of thousands of innocent victims, including many heroes in planes and on the ground who lost their lives trying to save others. He used appropriate language in an effort to unite a shocked and devastated country in common grief and purpose. He exhibited resolve to hold accountable those responsible for the murder of some 3,000 people. He did so largely without making it about himself. He appeared well and properly motivated. Unremarkably.
At least that’s how I choose to remember it.
Three other attorneys from Salt Lake City and I were staying at a Marriott Courtyard in a suburb of Atlanta. We were there to take the deposition of an expert witness in an industrial fire case. (This was before I turned virtually all of my attention to criminal defense.) I turned on the TV to listen to morning news while finishing last minute preparations for the day. American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston’s Logan International Airport, en route to Los Angeles, had already hit the north tower.
A few minutes later and with much of the rest of the country, my colleagues, the expert and I watched United Airlines Flight 175 from Boston to Los Angeles hit the south tower at 9:03 a.m. I don’t remember much about the deposition, whose expert he was, who conducted the questioning or what he had to say.
With all flights grounded, my colleagues and I did what anyone under those circumstances would do: we transferred from the Marriott Courtyard in the suburbs to a high-rise Marriott Marquis in the middle of downtown Atlanta.
I knew these gentlemen professionally but not personally or socially. They worked at different law firms and represented different clients in the case. Given our shared experience that day, however, and our professional association and common ties to home, we became fast friends and provided mutual support during this national tragedy. We ate together, drank together (except for one) and watched CNN together.
My fast friends and I spent a lot of time in front of televisions in bars and restaurants. We watched in horror as New Yorkers and others searched for loved ones, posting missing persons notices with messages of hope and love, fear and grief.
If I’m not mistaken, a real estate magnate took the opportunity to brag that his was now the tallest building in downtown Manhattan. Snopes confirms he said it but cautions that bragging is in the eye of the beholder. Bragging or not, what could possibly motivate a person to make such a comment?
Along with most people who were away from home, we had no idea how or when we could return via plane. My secretary was in constant contact with a travel agent. A few days after the attacks, we were able to book a flight home. The airport was eerily dark and quiet, all shops and stores were closed and guards armed with assault rifles kept close watch in the international terminal where we would board the plane. Atlanta is home to Delta, so when we finally boarded the plane, approximately 20 uniformed pilots, also stranded in Atlanta, were on the flight. The flight was quiet and tense but uneventful until the plane touched down in Salt Lake City. Passengers erupted in loud applause and expressions of gratitude and relief.
I’m guessing, and it’s only a guess, that even 20 years from now, if I’m still alive and have my wits, my memory of the current crisis in the world and the United States in particular, and the heroes who risked their lives in the unselfish service of others will, unfortunately, remain sullied by the utter failure of leadership and stewardship by the current occupant of the White House, his exacerbation of the crisis, his pure unfiltered hubris, and his willingness to engage in a cost-benefit analysis that if something somehow benefits him — or he thinks it does — it’s worth whatever the cost, including in lives.
*My brother the very talented fiction writer and novelist, Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, deserves considerable credit for offering both substantive and technical suggestions to https://medium.com/@richardvanwagoner and https://lastamendment.com
**Richard’s list of honors, awards and professional associations is extensive. He was Professor Emeritus (Painting and Drawing), Weber State University, having served three Appointments as Chair of the Department of Visual Arts there. He guest-lectured and instructed at many universities and juried numerous shows and exhibitions. He was invited to submit his work as part of many shows and exhibitions, and his work was exhibited in a number of traveling shows domestically and internationally. My daughter Angela Moore, a professional photographer, photographed more than 500 pieces of my father’s work. On behalf of the Van Wagoner Family Trust, she is in the process of compiling a collection of his art work. The photographs of my father’s art reproduced in https://medium.com/@richardvanwagoner and https://lastamendment.com are hers