Jim DeFede’s book has rather a long title (above), but for the ten thousand people of the town of Gander, Newfoundland, it really did seem like the whole world had arrived on their doorstep in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy in New York.
When the second plane hit the twin towers and the American Government ordered the closing of all American airspace, the planes that were already over half way from their take off point and heading for the USA had to land somewhere. For almost 40 passenger aircraft and a few private planes, that didn’t have enough fuel on board to be able to turn around and head back to their origin airport, Gander was their designated emergency airport. The question was, what happens when a town of ten thousand suddenly has to accommodate a further six and a half thousand people? It was a logistical nightmare that would have tested a city, never mind a small town in the middle of nowhere.
DeFede’s story was taken from interviews with hundreds of people who were affected by this sudden influx of people….this tide of humanity…. washing up on their doorstep. He interviewed the residents of Gander, the passengers and flight crews and has come up with a true story of heart-warming humanity which came about as a result of the terrible terrorist action of the eleventh of September 2001.
The people of the town of Gander were more than up to the challenge in front of them. Everyone pitched in to help the people on the planes as best as they could. Even striking bus drivers left the picket lines to provide transport from the airport to many varied places of accommodation. Because the flight crews and support staff had to be ready and refreshed to fly out at a moments notice, they got the priority accommodation at the motels and hotels available both in Gander and nearby towns. The passengers were accommodated in various church halls, schools, sports clubs and residents homes for the few days that they were stranded.
It was a true league of nations with a multitude of nationalities, religions and languages to be attended to and cared for. Food, clothing, bedding and many more personal items were all donated by the residents and stores in Gander without a thought as to personal cost. They took in these strangers not only because it was the right thing to do, but also because they simply wanted to help their fellow human beings. And help them they did, by opening up their homes and their hearts. Volunteers arrived at the various halls where beds had been set up for the stranded passengers offering to drive them where ever they wanted to go…or to take them home to use their shower facilities, or simply sit and chat over a cup of tea.
Among the stranded were millionaires, company chief executives even movie stars families – they were all given the same level of care as everyone else, and it must be noted that although some of the high flyers (excuse the pun) were offered to be sent certain luxuries to make their stay easier…or even a flight out on a company jet, they refused, saying it wouldn’t be fair on the other passengers and they would see it out in solidarity with the rest of the group.
Various bits of blurb on the cover of the book tell it all….An inspiring true story that spotlights acts of kindness in a world shocked and saddened by unimagined violence. And When you read this book, I predict tears in your eyes almost from the beginning, but they will not be tears of sadness or grief. They will be tears of joy and pride for the citizens of the little town of Gander, Newfoundland, who bravely stood up and said to the world, “Today we are all Americans.”
It is quite a lovely story, all the better for being true and DeFede does a wonderful job of weaving so many personal accounts together into one big act of humanity, of love and caring for our fellow human beings. It is not without its tragedy though and your heart will bleed and the tears will sting the back of your eyelids as you read about certain personal losses.
On the plus side, once it was all over and the stranded passengers were flown out to their various destinations, many of the people who had been helped by the selfless generosity of the town folk of Gander, donated money into funds to help the people and the institutions who had helped them.
When tragedy strikes, humanity steps in. It’s how it should be and it’s how it was in Gander.
A book well worth a read.
Thank you for reading this post. Can you recommend any other true stories of acts of unconditional love and kindness?