ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Inside the Born family's home in Alexandria, Virginia, a child's painting sits among a number of pictures, mementos, and military items collected over the years through their long history of serving in the armed forces.
The painting has a brown brush of color in the middle, with a blue and green mix forming a circular base below. To the right of it, pink colors rise to the top of the page in streaks.
The image dates back 20 years and captures what the 9/11 terror attacks looked like to 3-year-old Hanna Born.
Dana Born was a long-time service member in 2001 serving at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling near the Pentagon.
September 11, 2001, began like many other days when she dropped off her children, 3-year-old Hanna and her other 4-month-old daughter, at the Pentagon daycare facility in the morning.
Like people all across the country, Born remembers the shock of hearing two planes hit the World Trade Center towers.
However, she got even more fearful when she learned of the attack on the Pentagon with her children inside.
"One of my orderly room sergeants came in and said, 'Ma’am, the Pentagon has been hit.' Then it became real. We’re basically at war," she recalled. "We had people who had to go into harm's way in the Pentagon to fulfill their duties and mission. My husband took a call from me and said, 'I’ll get the girls in daycare.'”
For Hanna, specific memories from inside the Pentagon can be tough to remember since she was so young.
However, just three years old at the time, she described the "sensory overload" she experienced that day.
"Most of my memories are just surrounding an intense confusion and not really being able to process what was happening," Hanna said. "There were sounds of sirens, choppers, and jets overhead, fire alarms. The smell of acrid jet fuel. I remember a lot of confusion and being overwhelmed and struggling to process what was happening.”
Hanna's father, who also served in the military, came to her aid and picked her and her sister up from the daycare team that had stationed outside the Pentagon following the attack.
"I think that there was a great comfort when I was able to reach my husband and he said I’ve got the girls," Dana said.
Like many children who saw the 9/11 tragedy, comprehending what had happened was a tough ordeal for Hanna.
However, of the many pictures inside the Born household, three show a visit to the site of the attack just days after it occurred.
Hanna stands next to her infant sister's stroller.
Her father had just finished speaking to her, trying to describe what happened on 9/11 in a way a 3-year-old could understand.
One picture shows Hanna's sister crying as Hanna looks on closely nearby. Another taken a moment later shows the sister smiling as Hanna helps her feel better.
"You can see that she’s crying and Hanna is naturally helping to comfort her and say it’s okay," Dana said.
The trauma of 9/11, from seeing the chaos and fear in others around her to the overload of strange smells and sites at that Pentagon, stuck around with Hanna for years.
During days when her school would conduct fire drills, Dana said she would have to make special visits to comfort her daughter due to Hanna's fear that something terrible was happening.
As a way for her to cope with the mental struggle following 9/11, Hanna was able to start putting her feelings into art.
"For years afterward, I would paint pictures of the attacks at the Pentagon and my parents would sit next to me and support me through it," she said. "That was my way of processing."
The paintings led to progress, as her parents saw signs their daughter was recovering.
The things that used to terrify her, including fire alarms, became a reminder of something far different than a possible attack where she was.
"What helped was realizing that all those things I was so scared of, like sirens and fire alarms, I shouldn’t be associating them with danger and fear but actually the people who were coming to help," Hanna said.
Later in 2001, Hanna made a special request to her mother as they got ready to celebrate her birthday just weeks after what she experienced at the Pentagon.
"After 9/11, she decided she wanted to have an American flag birthday cake. We nicknamed her our little patriot," Dana said. "It was before she was 3 that we sensed she wanted to do something that contributed to our national security.”
A CALL TO SERVE
To trace the Born family tree is to also witness a long line of members who served in the military.
Dana attained the rank of brigadier general before she retired from the Air Force after decades of service.
Hanna's father served in the Navy. According to him, the family's service in the armed forces dates back to the Civil War.
The connection to the military grew even longer when Hanna told her parents she wanted to join the Air Force.
She told WUSA 9 that her desire to serve came after the family moved to Colorado and she grew up on a base.
"I saw service members and families every day committing themselves to a larger purpose," Hanna said. "It inspired me every day as I was growing up.”
Years later, Hanna now finds herself as a member of the same branch of military her mother once served in.
After being commissioned in April last year, she is now studying at Georgetown for a master's degree in data sciences and analytics.
Following her expected graduation later this December, Hanna told WUSA 9 that she planned to sign up for pilot training.
Hanna's sister is right behind her as she continues her time at the Naval Academy and hopes to one day be a Marine.
"It has inspired both of us to be part of that help instead of just being stuck in the trauma," Hanna said.
Every year, the anniversary of 9/11 brings a mix of emotions for the Born family.
Much has changed over the last two decades, including the two daughters growing up to proudly serve like their parents.
This year, they plan on attending the Air Force-Navy football game together in Annapolis.
For Dana, part of the experience of thinking back to 9/11 involves looking closely at the pictures of her girls at the Pentagon in the days following the attack. Seeing Hanna comfort her young sister provides a special reminder.
"It really clarifies for me what it is about," she said. "It’s a beautiful way to transform who you are, why you are into doing something that makes the world a better, safer, and more just place.”
As Hanna continues her studies and dreams about further serving in the Air Force, the anniversary provides a time for her to reflect and remember the others who made a difference for her on that fateful day.
"As much as 9/11 and being in the Pentagon was a traumatic experience, as I’ve grown older, I’ve developed a better understanding and appreciation for how blessed I was and my family was," she said. "There’s not a lot of families who can say they were as fortunate. There’s a lot of people whose lives were forever changed by 9/11."
"Personally, I feel the best way to continue to remember and honor those lives and that sacrifice is to serve," she added.