Tuesday, September 11, 2012

UPDATED - PLEASE RE-READ: Remembering 9/11 through the beauty and grace of a people that almost no one has ever heard of

I am certain that everyone remembers where they were on September 11, 2001...that tragic day will forever live on in our hearts. There was so much terror, panic and fear for many people...and some people will carry scars forever.

But there was much beauty and love found on that day...in a place that most people have never heard about. That place is on an island to the north of my island in Gander, Newfoundland. And it was there that beauty, love and generous hospitality flourished on such a horrible day.

Gander, Newfoundland is a town of 10,000 people and is situated at the easternmost edge of North America. The Gander International Airport was a refueling stop on early transatlantic flights of the 1940's and 1950's. But the advent of long-haul jets in the 1960's ended its life as an aviation hub. The Gander International Airport still has a big runway, but big jets touch down there much less often now.

All of that changed quickly and suddenly on September 11, 2001. In the space of only 3 hours, the Gander International airport landed 39 jets carrying 6,600 passengers from all over the world. With such short notice, a major city would be hard-pressed to shelter and house that number of people. But Gander, one of Canada's poorest provinces, housed and fed all of the 6,600 passengers for four days! The people of Gander, and the people from nearby towns, provided food, shelter and in some instances, clothing, to all of those scared passengers who did not know when they would be able to finish their flights. Many of the passengers were Americans who must have been terrified and worried for their families back home.

Many international passengers were surprised at the level of generosity and hospitality that was shown to them by the people of Gander. But for most Canadians - we were not surprised at all - Newfoundland/Labrador is known as a place of great generosity and hospitality, and the people there have huge hearts.

Letters, cards, e-mails and gifts are still pouring in to the town of Gander and the Gander International Airport from passengers expressing their great thanks. And even though the town did all that they could without ever expecting anything in return, their grateful guests even donated over $60,000 to the town.
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(i don't usually do copy and paste posts but i felt that this article needed to be shared. the article marked the 10yr anniversary of 9/11 last year, but i think it is fitting to be reminded on this anniversary.)

Gander on 9/11 told 'you were the best of us'

U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson paid tribute to the town of Gander, N.L. for its generosity on 9/11, hailing its residents for their grace and good humour and representing "the best of us."

Jacobson was a key speaker at the memorial ceremony held at the town's hockey rink, where two steel girders from the World Trade Center were presented by a New York City firefighter to thank the town for its hospitality toward stranded air travellers on Sept. 11, 2001. The girders will remain in the town's aviation museum.

With a tremor in his voice, Jacobson reminisced about the tireless efforts of all the town's residents and surrounding communities during that day 10 years ago, and the days that followed.

"This could well be the motto of this town: 'Without waiting to be asked,'" Jacobson said.

He spoke about one stranded passenger, a child, who turned four in Gander soon after 9/11. All his gifts were stuck on the plane he had been on, so to make him feel better, a local Gander family threw him a party.

"They consoled and they cooked, they cooked and they cooked," Jacobson recalled.

Jacobson also thanked the hundreds of Canadians, including those in Vancouver, Halifax, Montreal and Toronto, who helped thousands of stranded passengers.

The Gander ceremony began with a group prayer with its mayor, Claude Elliott, taking the podium first to honour the "beautiful acts of humanity" that happened on Sept. 11, 2001.

"Good can triumph over evil all the time," said Elliott who was recently in Washington D.C. to accept an international resiliency award for town residents. Gander, with a population barely hitting 10,000, welcomed 6,600 stranded passengers that fateful day.

Elliott told Jacobson that residents didn't need any accolades for their generosity.

'We wanted to do it'

 

Residents have been singled out for their tireless efforts in making strangers feel at home, opening their houses, filling prescriptions without charge and making sure people felt comfortable bedding down in schools and church halls.

"We wanted to do it. The smiles of the people who left Gander was sufficient for us," said Elliott, who ended his speech with a quote: 'What you do for yourself dies with you but what you do for others lives on.'"

Monica Burke, 44, a 911 dispatcher from Seattle, was one of three strangers Beulah Cooper, 70, welcomed into her home. Burke told the audience she has returned to Gander twice since that day, maintaining close ties with Cooper.

Burke recalled feeling "tired, scared" and breaking down crying when Cooper offered her shelter. "[Beulah] reminded me that kindness and humanity can light even the coldest, darkest night."

'Light in the midst of darkness'

The province's premier, Kathy Dunderdale, said the day helped further define the friendship between Canada and the U.S.

"What binds us are the values of liberty and justice," said Dunderdale, who exalted town residents for doing what most people in her province consider "second nature."

"[Gander was] a beacon of light in the dark … [residents] showed the way to hope and humanity in a time of death and despair."

Federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews also thanked the people of the area for the example they set: "Places like Gander … galvanized our resolve to be light in the midst of darkness."

And in a statement released later Sunday, Defence Minister Peter MacKay asked Canadians to remember not just those who lost their lives in the attacks, but also " those who sacrificed in the years since." "Canada's soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen faced the threats that challenged the security of our nation, accepted the fears of their compatriots, marched to the front lines of one of the most dangerous places on Earth and fought to defend the ideals and values that shaped Canada and made this country great. … On behalf of all Canadians, I thank the members of the Canadian Forces for their service, sacrifice and selflessness."

In between speeches, the white-clad Gander Academy Grade 2 sang songs. The three-hour ceremony wrapped up with The Last Post.

'Incredible acts of courage'

 

Elsewhere, Prime Minister Stephen Harper attended the Ground Zero ceremonies in the U.S. after formally designating Sept. 11 a national day of service, honouring both the victims and the Canadian communities who aided stranded travellers 10 years ago.

“While Canadians share in the grief of all those mourning loved ones lost, we also honour the incredible acts of courage, sacrifice and kindness by those who served in the rescue efforts,” Harper said in statement released Sunday.

The prime minister said Canada would stand with its allies to "help ensure such a tragedy never happens again."

“Terrorism will not undermine our way of life … We will steadfastly defend, protect and promote our democratic values and principles, the very foundation of our free and prosperous society.”

Harper met with family members of some of Canada's 24 New York 9/11 victims on Saturday night. On Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama sent a letter to Harper thanking all Canadians for their support during that difficult time.

"We remember with gratitude and affection how the people of Canada offered us the comfort of friendship and extraordinary assistance that day and in the following days by opening their airports, homes and hearts to us," Obama wrote.

Plaque for Halifax airport

Several other communities across Canada had unexpected visitors when U.S. air space was shut down to all but military aircraft, with about 200 flights diverted to Canadian airports. Many flights also ended up in Moncton, N.B., and in Halifax, where 8,000 extra passengers showed up.

U.S. Consul-General Anton Smith presented a plaque to Halifax airport managers early Sunday to thank employees and residents for their aid.

In Ottawa, an open-air concert "of hope and remembrance" began precisely at 8:46 a.m., the time when the first plane hit the World Trade Centre.

Jean Chr├ętien, who was prime minister when the attacks occurred, attended the Parliament Hill event along with several hundred others.

After the concert, Chr├ętien recalled how tens of thousands of Canadians turned out on Parliament Hill to express their solidarity with Americans in the days after the terror attacks.

“We had 100,000 people on the Hill," he recalled "And the greatest moment, when I asked for three minutes of silence, it was probably the three minutes the most moving of my life to not hear a noise for three minutes. People praying in their own faith for the American people."

You can read the complete article here.

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On this September 11, may we remember everything that happened - not just the bad stuff, the deaths, the terror and the panic - but also the love, generosity and humanity that was shown by ordinary people dealing with extraordinary circumstances.

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UPDATE BEGINS HERE:

i just received a wonderful comment from a person who was in Gander on that day and who played a pivotal role in taking care of the stranded passengers! to say that i am touched is an understatement...to say that i am honoured that such a heroe would take the time to comment here - well, i am simply blown away.

please see lazydaysnl's comment below...and please go and read their post about being in the thick of providing for all of those stranded passengers here. please leave a comment and thank them for their selflessness...they are the unsung heroes of a tragic happening that through their good works, made many lives easier. please give a standing ovation to lazydaysnl and all of the work that they, and other unsung heroes did during this tragic time.

lazydaysnl...i thank you from the bottom of my heart!

42 comments:

  1. Just wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Sweet Kymber, Thank you for sharing this article and stories from the communities. I love when citizens open their hearts and homes to help complete strangers. 9/11 has touched all of us in some way.
    Your Friend,
    Sandy

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    1. sweet Sandy - you are very welcome. i knew about what was going in Gander on the day it happened even though i was still in Ottawa. but i was working for the Solicitor General of Canada, and as that mandate was "public safety", we were responsible for trying to find places to land the planes that weren't allowed into US airspace that were circling the Atlantic. all of the residents coming together as fast as they did actually overwhelmed some of the organizers who were sent out to prepare for the landings of the planes. it was quite something else. and i was very proud that Gander was officially recognized by the US last year on the 10yr anniversary.

      i also wanted to put up a post today in memory of 9/11...but i wanted it to have a human and caring feel to it. there was definitely terror on that day - but there was also great humanity.

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  3. Thanks for sharing the article. Those who really care were brought a little closer on that day, not only in the U.S. but around the world. Thank you again.

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    1. your welcome John. yes - that day was awful and we will never forget it, but it was also a day of great care.

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  4. wow! I am emotional..can't think of any words to say..Just such a wonderful story of love and compassion for the fellow man. Thanks for posting it, I would have never known about it if you hadn't

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    1. no worries JUGM. sometimes no words are the only right thing to say. i am glad that the story touched you. and i am glad that you now know about some ordinary, simple Canadians who were just as heroic as the heroic men and women who went in and out of the towers trying to save lives. heroes come in all shapes and sizes!

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    1. Stephen - it's nice of you to say that as i have read many articles about Gander and it's participation during that difficult time....and that is what the resident's say. they say that God blessed them and allowed them to share everything that they had with those stranded passengers. others say that God blessed them by being able to meet new friends that they never would have met otherwise.

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  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    1. i deleted this comment as it had spam in it.

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  7. I did not know about Gander, Newfoundland and their wonderful activities on 9-11.Kymber, thank you as always for sharing in your wonderful posts. I can say, that I am not the least bit surprised. Atlantic Canadians are among some of the kindest, most decent people I have ever encountered anywhere. Love and thanks to you all.

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    1. Jane - as i mentioned above, i was working for the Solicitor General at the time and we were holding a non-stop tele-conference with Canadian and US agencies trying to figure out where to send those planes that were circling the Atlantic. once the decision was made, different agencies got ground crews out to Gander and the ground crews were amazed with the hospitality of the community of Gander. everyone was surprised at how easy it all went down - it should have been a logistics nightmare!!! so i knew about what was going on in Gander on the day it happened...and i must say...knowing about it on the day put a little light in all of our hearts as we tried to understand the situation. and you are correct - Atlantic Canadians have the biggest hearts in the world. love back to you Jane!

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  8. Yes, the kindness, love, generosity and sacrifice shown that day was beautiful and inspiring. Lovely post kymber.

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    1. thank you agirl. it was a terrible event, and one that we will never forget, but also one in which many people came together and cared.

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  9. Joe gathered some of his battalion together and immediately drove to NY where they climbed upon the rubble and started digging. The rubble was 3 stories high, with cranes and bulldozers standing by as the firemen looked for something - anything.

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    1. lotta - you have enough emails from me praising that man up and down to know just how much i think of Joe. and i am always so glad that you have him. i don't think that based on your descriptions of him that i could ever think higher of him - his pedestal is up there with the tower of babylon.

      and somehow he just grew even more. he gathered up his battalion and went to NY??? oh my goodness. i just don't know what to say. thank him for me will you? thank him and hug him.

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    2. I was on duty at the fire department. I called him on his "day off job" and said to turn on the TV. We'd only been married a few months, but he immediately gathered four of his men together and the fire department loaned him an official car. When they got to NY, the cops stopped traffic and waved Joe through in the large red car. When they were digging, and they would find something (even if it was just a pocket ripped from a firefighters uniform) the siren would sound. The cranes and bulldozers would stop and the operators would get out, remove their hard hats and stand in silence.

      Joe said the silence was so deafening it was eerie.

      The line of firemen would pass the piece of clothing, or a finger, down the pile into the hands of a firefighter chaplain or salvation army chaplain.

      Then the equipment would start up again, and the digging would continue.

      When he wasn't on the pile, he was attending firefighters funerals and standing guard.

      And he's MINE.

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    3. and he's wonderful. and i am so glad that he is yours!

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  10. Thank you for this lovely tribute.

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    1. Gayle...you are so very welcome. it is something that touched me at the time...and continues to touch me. thank you.

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  11. Sis - For me right now, few words are the right words. Thank you for honoring those who deserve the honoring.

    Very touching and enlightening post. I Love You ! xoxoxo

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    1. my dearest and sweetest...few words are always the right words in certain instances. thank you for understanding that there are those who never don uniforms and never pick up guns, but use up all of their food stores in order to take care of complete and utter strangers. they MUST be honoured as well. thank you for noticing. but then again...yer my sister. i would expect nothing less. thank you honey. i love you so much. always, forever...and a day! xoxoxoxxoxo

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  12. kymber,

    Thank you so much for sharing this. It warms my heart & soul to know there are so many good, kind & generous people in the world.

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    1. DFW - you are so welcome. when it happened, and we were rushing around at work trying to write speeches and speaking notes, but we were all terrified and didn't know what we were doing and running around like chickens with our heads cut off and terrified - this little piece of the story was like balm to our souls. it calmed us. we landed those planes. the people must have been shocked and terrified - but they were met with such open arms. and knowing this enabled us to get over our fear, do our jobs, and see that even after such a horrific event - good always prevails. there really ARE good, kind and generous people in the world. it warms my heart and soul, too.

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  13. I am so glad you posted about this,as I have never heard of this fabulous Gander with so many loving,caring,special people. What a lovely post! A belated thank you to Gander...and any of our Canadian/international brethren that helped in any way,shape or form on that horrible day.

    Your NH friend,Donna


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    1. Donna - on behalf of the people of Gander, and other ordinary Canadian heroes, i accept your NH thanks which warms my heart on this day. thank you very much!

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  14. God bless you for sharing this. So many people were heroes that we did not hear about.

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    1. thank you so much Mamma - there were so many heroes!!! and please, thank The Marine for his service on my behalf - i could never thank him enough!

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  15. Great post. In Gander, we just kept doing what needed to be done at the time. Www.lazydaysnl.wordpress.com has some of my reflections

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    1. Thank you for all you did in such a frightening and bewildering time for all those concerned.

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  16. lazydaysnl - i have updated this post in order to direct people to your post - thank you so much for commenting here - you have no idea how much i appreciate it! you and the people of Gander did nothing short of extraordinary...but i think in newfoundland such actions are simply called "second nature". i was so very proud of you all on the day that it happened and i have continued to be proud of you all since then. you guys put the cherry on top of the cake that is known as "awesome Maritimers" - you make my heart sing and i am very glad to have gone through such a traumatic time with you and your kind of folk. i could never thank you enough!

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  17. thank you for the bit of history

    Wildflower

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    1. Wildfower - thank you so much for caring..it means alot!

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  18. How awesome was that story! I never heard that. Sadly, my Grandfather (Mom's side) passed away on 9/11/01 (had a heart attack watching the coverage) and so my whole month after that tragic day is sort of a blur and I missed much of the post 9/11 news. I totally missed the new of the people of Gander, what a wonderful moment.

    Sadly, 9/11 showed us the worst in humanity, but in the hours and days and weeks afterward, it showed us the best.

    Thank you for sharing.

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    1. oh 1st Man - i am so sorry that you lost your Grandfather on such an already tragic day! you are so welcome for the sharing...that is exactly how i feel about 9/11 - it showed humanity at it's very worst...and at it's very best.

      it's very best!

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  19. kymber - I do not believe that there is a single person on this planet who could, nor should, ever forget that day.

    Your posting gave me goose bumps - and tremendous pride in our fellow man. For those who respond in times of need are indeed the kind of people which this planet needs.

    Thank you - not only to the people of Gander for their amazing generosity and thoughtfulness, but also to you, for sharing such a wonderful happening in the midst of such horror.

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    1. oh Dani - that's what i felt when it happened - TREMENDOUS PRIDE in our fellow man. Evil will never prevail! people like the people of Gander, they will always be there, acting as balms to our souls and helping us heal and move forward. thank you for understanding Dani!

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  20. Ditto what all my compadres have said above. Thank you for sharing another fascinating aspect of the events surrounding 9/11/01. Such compassion and generosity, and such genuine appreciation too. Thanks again, Kymber!
    Christy

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    1. Christy - you are so welcome! you seem to really get it...and i appreciate that so much. thank you!

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  21. Interesting. I was not aware of that.

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