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Dee McLelland: The day a boulder became a flag
Dee McLelland new

One of the veterans who plays golf with me on occasion had a sign on his golf cart which stated “9-11… Never Forget” and it certainly brought some very anxious moments back to my mind and, oddly enough, some very fond memories as well.

It was 19 years ago on September 6 in 2001, my beautiful twin daughters came into the world. Emma and Sadie, both now in college, celebrated their 19th birthday this past Sunday. We lived in Maine at the time, only 30 miles from the airport where the terrorists boarded the planes headed for New York and then on to their deadly targets.

Also at that time, two of my sons were in New York, less than six hours away by car and we had talked about them coming up and seeing their new sisters.

The girls had only been home less than 48 hours when the attacks started. The boys, Scott and Chase, were in New York at the time. Scott had worked at the World Trade Center and he and Chase were going to see the city since it was Chase’s first visit.

As the attacks started being reported on television I was struck with the realization that here in their new little bedroom lay two of the most precious things in the world to me and in New York, two more of the most precious things in the world were under attack. While the girls slept peacefully, I made frantic phone calls trying to reach the boys. Of course, 19 years ago cell phones had not reached the level they are now and also every available line in the nation was being used to check on family and friends. As the minutes passed and we watched the first, then second tower come down, the anxiety continued to grow. The girls were safe in their crib, but the feeling that those terrorists had only been a few miles away gave me a sick feeling. The fact that the two boys were in New York made that feeling grow even more and also started to make me feel helpless.

Understandably, the more times my phone calls were unanswered, or the chilling “All circuits are busy” message came back at my ear caused me to worry even more. Phones calls to friends were made, some getting through, others getting the same message or just a busy signal.

The news reports became much more vivid as the Pentagon and then another plane in Pennsylvania was down. It certainly seemed as if the world, at least at the moment, was on the brink of war.

I constantly peeked into the crib as the girls lay sleeping. I constantly called Scott and Chase. I couldn’t talk with any of them.

As an athlete growing up, I was always the one who would say never give up, even if we were down by three touchdowns or 30 points or 10 runs. I knew there had to be something I could do. Something we could do as a team.

But this situation was something I could, we could, have never dreamed, two new babies, the first girls of the family, and two sons who were in the middle of the worst attack on our country’s soil.

The girls woke up, ate and then went promptly back to sleep. I paced the floor and continued to call the boys. I paced the floor.

Today we let ignorant people pull at America from within with their selfish motives, that’s you Republicans, that’s you Democrats, I wanted something that would make me feel better and not feel so helpless.

I grabbed my paints and headed for a granite boulder which sprouted from the edge of our front yard. Maine is known for these granite boulders which cover a lot of the landscape and shorelines. I started quickly, having really no idea what I was going to paint but the paints flowed with the passion, the anger and resolve that I was feeling at the moment. I stood back after I guess was an hour or so and looked at my work.

It was the American flag.

I stood back and felt better. I’m not sure what patriotism feels like, but this had to be it. No one person, no one country or enemy could have beaten me at that moment.

The phone rang, the boys were fine. The girls squirmed awake and their blue eyes sparkled. Americans would discover who their enemies were and we, as Americans, pulled together as never before.

That painted flag is still visible on that granite boulder in Durham, Maine. Each time we have gone back and visited the state, we have made the effort to go by and see it, even if it meant driving miles out of the way.

Friday, September 11, should still continue to stir feelings in all Americans. That day will always mean something to me and I’m sure every other American has the same feeling. It is something we can unite on even during these disruptive times.

“We shall never forget.”

McLelland is publisher of the Bryan County News and Coastal Courier. You can reach him at

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