Las Vegas Sun

October 21, 2019

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Family proud to be part of famous photograph

Few Americans will forget where they were last Sept. 11. Most can recall in great detail the location, what they were doing and how they first heard of the tragic events unfolding in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

Four-year-old Alana Milawski might not remember the details of that Tuesday, but she will have more visual reminders than most people. Her photo appeared in the Sun and countless other newspapers and magazines in the weeks after the attacks.

For many Americans, Alana helped define a moment -- a young child on her father's shoulders waving a flag at a prayer rally, unaware of the unspeakable grief of the adults around her.

But it was almost by accident that the Summerlin girl's image became etched in the nation's psyche. Assigned to photograph the candlelight vigil at the Thomas & Mack Center the day after the attacks, Sun photographer Ethan Miller spotted Alana perched on her father's shoulders while searching for an image that would best express the moment.

Little did the Milawskis know that Miller's photo would soon catapult their daughter into the limelight. Within two days the shot had not only appeared in the Sun, but it also had been picked up by Reuters news service and was reprinted all over the world.

"It was a little overwhelming at first," Kathleen Milawski, Alana's mother, said. "It's an honor for the picture to keep coming up."

The picture appeared on the cover of a special issue of Newsweek magazine, which has been reissued as a commemorative edition.

The normally quiet family was soon flooded by requests for interviews and was even the subject of a feature in the London Daily Sun.

The ease with which various news organizations were able to find the family was something that caught Kathleen Milawski by surprise.

"I thought once your number was unlisted, it was unlisted," she said. "If someone really wants to find you, they'll find you."

However, a year later, the interview requests have died down and life for the family has returned to normal, something the family welcomes, Craig Milawski, Alana's father, said.

"It was fun in the beginning, but a little bit of the novelty has worn off," he said. "It's been neat to see everything she's been a part of, though."

Since last year the Milawskis have seen their daughter's likeness used to sell not only newspapers and magazines, but also T-shirts and yearbooks.

A relative in Arkansas even called the family to tell them the now-famous photo was rendered on the handle of a knife with the title "Angel of Peace."

"We didn't really want our daughter on a knife," her father said.

While the family is glad their 15 minutes of fame is over, Alana's parents will have a unique way to explain to their daughter what happened that day when she was only 3.

The family has begun compiling a box of all the clippings and items with their daughter's photo.

"With her only being 4, she doesn't understand it too much," her dad said.

But a year has passed and Alana is slowly becoming more aware of her role in America's grieving process.

Since beginning preschool, Alana has since become more aware that her experience is not one shared by her classmates, especially when she saw her picture on a wall in her classroom.

"Her teacher didn't realize until she saw the picture that she was the girl in the photo," Craig Milawski said.

Moments such as that remind the family of the effect Alana had on America.

The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 changed the country, the Milawskis recognize, but they are confident that by the time Alana and her 10-year-old sister are grown, the grief will have passed and the nation they inherit will not be as gloomy and dangerous as many predict.

Since the attacks, the family has tried to spend more time together, but has not altered their lives significantly, they say.

They remain uninterested in the trappings of celebrity, Craig Milawski said.

He still goes to his job as an account executive with a Las Vegas office-supply distributor and travels regularly on business.

The family still vacations at relatives' homes in Chicago and Arkansas.

"Like they say, you can't change your lifestyle or live in fear," Craig Milawski said. "You could be depressed or you can be sad or you can look at all the unity involved. Life is too short. You have to live your life."