Gander, 9/11 and 15 Years

A space was designated for quilts at the museum in New York. So many quilts were donated that they are hung in rotation. I can’t help but see the quilt on the right representing the impact in the towers, the Pentagon, the order of a normal day.


This post will evolve as the day goes on, as the days follow and has been forming already over a week or more as I was thinking about 9/11 approaching.

I was contacted a few months ago by retired Captain Robert Burgess to tell me he and his wife Rosemary would be coming to Gander for the 15th anniversary of 9/11. Captain Burgess was pilot of Virgin Flight 21 that was diverted to Gander and whose passengers were our special guests at Gander Academy for 4 days and nights.

Captain Burgess and I interacted during those days to give information to his passengers through as series of messages he would dictate to me and which I would type up and post on a bulletin board I established with information for each of our four flights. He was also the first airline representative to come to the school on September 12, after his passengers arrived overnight. Watching him reassure his passengers gathered in CITE at Gander Academy was comforting not just to them but to me as a volunteer.

This week I learned there would be a delegation from New York City doing a presentation at Gander Academy as part of their Tour of Gratitude. As a retired teacher, I was invited to attend. Those of us who were staff members will never forget the experience of being helpful and needed at a time of such great despair.

As Jeanette introduced herself as a survivor of 9/11, the tears began to flow from staff members. Jeanette was working in the American Express Building across the street from Tower One.

Jeannette presents books to the library at Gander Academy following the slide show.

Retired NYC Police officer Joe and his lovely wife Sonja each introduced themselves as did the other members of the Tour of Gratitude. Then a slide show and history was given to the Gander Academy Grade 6 students who are only 11 years old. In my career at the Academy I went from children sharing their own remembrances of how their families helped passengers to the point where children where too young to remember or not yet born. As we talked about it in school they would go home then to ask about it and would come back with stories to share.


The slide show demonstrates how the victims were honored and also the destruction of the day. A while rose is placed on the names of victims on their birthdays. With over 100 students in the room, there was complete silence as they listened attentively. Maria Jaffe reminded the students that goodness and kindness will always beat evil and she received a round of applause from the students.


On Friday night, Captain Burgess and Rosemary arrived from the UK and shared a meal at our house. We’d met once since, 14 years ago, when I was fortunate to have been randomly selected to accompany two students to visit London as a thank you gift from Virgin Airlines. This time, we had time to talk about our own experiences of 2001. When he eventually arrived in Dulles, Washington, he told us his crew took their minimum rest break to get passengers who wanted back to London.

It’s 11 a.m. as I start this post. This morning, we attended a service at Gander Heritage Memorial Park with the Tour of Gratitude delegates.

They honored the 26 Canadians who were lost in the towers and also their friends  and family as they would have done if they were in New York today. A bell tolled after groups of names were read. The bell was then presented to the Salvation Army, accepted by officer Stuckless.

Again, tears flowed as we stood in support of our guests.


Leo met the New Yorkers at Gander Collegiate and when asked told them he’d been at the Academy during 9/11 and helped set up tvs by bringing cables from home. He also told them about driving the bus after leaving the strike picket line. The police officers asked if they could hug and kiss him. Again, Leo and Joe connected this morning and shared words of comfort. Emotions are so close to the surface.


The Burgesses attended the service this morning and will attend all day. Captain Burgess visited with Salvation Army officers, Gander residents and Mayor Elliott.


Between services in Gander, we watch the news and services elsewhere. Thank you Gander for coming out this morning. I will add again later. Diane



At 2:00 we attended a National Day of Service Ecumenical Service.

Opening with a parade of first responders lead by the Regional Cadet Band, a wave of emotion came through the community centre. Adam Janes’ singing of the Canadian and then Amercian anthems had some people sobbing already. Even in our role of being busy and helping and doing our thing, there are still triggers that bring tears for many of us.

Featuring local choirs lead by Mike Freake and Kim Wiseman, the speeches were alternated with beautiful music.


Claude Elliott has been the Mayor of Gander for 20 years and once again did an outstanding job of representing us before visitors from the US, the Premier and U. S. Consular General Steven Giegerich. As a first responder by profession, he reminded us of the sacrifice made daily by EMS, Firefighters, police and military every day.



The event was free but donations were accepted for Wounded Warriors Canada. The whole service was emotional and I’m at a loss for words to describe it accurately.

Opera Singer Robert Pilon sang with local choirs and soprano Kim Wiseman.Tears flowed here too. Songs Bring Him Home, Wind Beneath My Wings, The Circle of Life  and Your Raise Me Up were beautifully curated  and performed for the event.

Representing the Tour of Gratitude delegates from New York, Maria Jaffe and Vernoy Paolini thanked the Town of Gander and surrounding area for giving hope by having offered assistance to so many people on 9/11.


Premier Dwight Ball and Liberal Member of Parliament Scott Simms also addressed the gathering and like all other speakers emphasized the nature of Newfoundlanders to help in times of need but also that the work done in Gander was also done in surrounding communities like Gambo, Lewisporte, Appleton and Glenwood. Support from communities further away ensured we did not run out of food, bedding or any other need during the Plane People stay.

During the service a number of motorcyclists arrived and stood in the back of the room. These riders were preparing to go to the airport to accompany the Tunnel To Tower Foundation vehicles to deliver a piece of steel from Tower Two to the Gander International Airport.


Following the Ecumenical Service we walked home and admired the hundred or so motorcycles getting ready for a motorcade to the airport.




Siller was a New York firefighter who ran to the towers when he was unable to access them with his vehicle.



It was a beautiful, moving day.

I hope that the delegations from New York and other places find some peace in their pilgrimages to Gander. I wish them safe travels as they start to journey home.

Kindness. Kindness and doing what you can is the right thing. Every time. Gander knew this and still does.


3 thoughts on “Gander, 9/11 and 15 Years

  1. Thank you for your kindnesses to strangers from around the world 15 years ago.
    Your community will always hold a special place in my heart, while I doubt I will ever get there.

    Liked by 1 person

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