In art and poetry, veterans reflect on 9/11 as part of Basalt-based nonprofit’s project

Challenge America announces winners of 9/11 Veterans Art Competition

“Mindful” by U.S. Army veteran Jason Turner won the Challenge America 9/11 Veterans Art Competition. Courtesy Image
“Will Always Defend,” by U.S. Navy veteran Stephanie Meckler was among the finalists in Challenge America’s 9/11 Veterans Art Competition. Courtesy Image

* Write a letter or share your artwork with veterans and service members at

* See the five finalist artworks and poems from Challenge America’s National 9/11 Veterans Art Competition at

* If you are a veteran, join the Challenge America Veteran Arts Community at

Basalt-based nonprofit Challenge America has named U.S. Army veterans Jason Turner and Douglas W. Johnson as the winners of its National 9/11 Veterans Art Competition.

Hosted on the online veterans-only platform Challenge America Veteran Arts Community (CAVARTS) the contest took submissions in both visual arts and poetry.

“There is no doubt that the 20th anniversary of 9/11 will be a particularly emotional moment for the service members, veterans, and first responders who kept us safe these last 20 years,” Challenge America director Dallas Blaney said Thursday. “This is why it’s so important to reach out to show our gratitude for their service and sacrifice, and remind them that they aren’t alone.”

Turner, a painter, won for his oil painting “Mindful,” a close-up portrait of a man pressing a hand to his face and holding dog tags.

“This piece was completed in remembrance of the personal loss of my brother as well as my brothers/sisters in arms and friends lost while serving during 9/11 and after,” Turner wrote of the work. “Their memories continue to flood my thoughts. I wanted to create an image that signified that. That period of my life will always weigh heavily on me. However, there’s always someone thinking about you and they have your six.”

Johnson, a writer and disabled veteran of the Iraq war, won in the poetry category for his “9/11/2021 Sonnet.”

‘9/11/2021 Sonnet’

By Douglas W. Johnson

The words we use to describe that day are the same

Always. It’s pointless to devise a synonym

That truly honors the heroes’ fame

As we pause this day to remember them.

How they spent the last time they had to live

Seeking to save strangers, despite the danger.

(Greater love hath no person than to give …)

We watched their vain sacrifice in wonder,

In horror, with anger and sorrow, stunned

As the titanic towers collapsed in thunder,

Contributed to the survivor’s fund,

Committed ourselves to a vengeful blunder.

After strong passion, the terrible weariness

But always stays eternal remembrance.

Referring to the post-9/11 wars as a “vengeful blunder,” Johnson’s work addresses the regrets and societal divisions in the U.S. over the two decades since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but serves as a call to honor veterans.

“We disagreed, and still disagree, whether being overseas had any point,” Johnson wrote. “We never disagreed on whether our sacrifices, and those who went before us, had meaning. The words we use sound so cliche, so trite, but the deeds that we try to describe are so poignant and fraught with emotion that we keep seeking ways to make the words evoke the memory of the day we beheld the heroic humans.”

The National Veterans Art Museum in Chicago will open an exhibition Saturday showing Turner’s and Johnson’s works alongside the top five finalists in each category. The exhibition is also online at

Challenge America also teamed with the nonprofit Operation Gratitude for the competition and together they are inviting Americans to write letters — and share their own artwork — with first responders, service members and veterans on the 9/11 National Day of Service. Submissions are open online.

Competition finalists this week also had their work featured on postcards in some 50,000 Operation Gratitude care packages going to first responders, active duty service members and veterans.