A small crowd gathered around a transport truck as it pulled up to the Gander Community Centre on Aug. 9. The truck came to a stop, and the driver walked around to open the trailer door.
He used a trolley to bring the much-anticipated piece of freight to the front of the truck, where a rink attendant used a forklift to bring it inside.
Waiting anxiously was Gander Mayor Claude Elliott, who used a utility knife to open the package. With cardboard and bits of plastic strewn about, Elliott stood above a 700-pound piece of steel that once belonged to the World Trade Center in New York City.
Watching the events unfold was Oz Fudge, Gander’s municipal police constable and coach of a Central Newfoundland girls’ basketball team that travelled to Bethpage, New York for a tournament during Christmas.
Fudge knew the piece was coming, but seemed a little lost for words when asked what he was feeling when the piece was sitting just 10 feet away from him.
“For me, it’s a surreal type of deal,” Const. Fudge said. “I just can’t believe it’s here, and I’m just so proud, so happy that it is.”
Mike Fenster, a physical education teacher and coach in Bethpage, is the man who spearheaded the effort to get the steel to Gander.
Fudge and Fenster have become good friends since the basketball tournament was held, and Fenster plans on attending Gander’s 9-11 memorial service next month.
“Mike Fenster put a lot of work into this. He begged and pleaded with a lot of people, and he was able to secure two pieces,” said Fudge. “I know it’s going to be a real honour for the town, the region, and I would say for the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.”
The 700-pound piece of steel that arrived last week came from the Bethpage Fire Department, and the second piece, which is expected to arrive sometime before the memorial service, will come from the New York Port Authority.
Both pieces will be showcased at the North Atlantic Aviation Museum, next to the other 9-11 memorabilia that resides there.
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"It would be the appropriate place to put it," Elliott said.
After speaking to an Austrian film crew, Elliott spent the next 10 minutes or so speaking with assembled media.
He was the town’s mayor on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists took down both towers of the World Trade Center, and he said memories of that fateful day came flooding back to him while he opened the package.
“Mixed emotions. I was thinking about the lives that were lost and the children and families that were left behind,” Elliott said. “This piece of steel was part of the destruction of the families, but halfway through I thought about all of the good that was done. We have to look at it as a happy occasion, but at the same time we can’t forget the sadness.”
Fudge was also thinking back to that fateful September day while looking at the piece of steel that rested on the community centre floor.
As a police officer, with family members who share in the same line of work, Fudge couldn’t help but think what that single piece of steel must have witnessed when two planes came crashing into the two mammoth structures.
“That’s the thing about it and that’s what’s going through my mind right now. That little piece there is 700 pounds, and you had two buildings,” he said. “All of it came down…all of those people lost their lives, and that was a piece of it.”
Beyond the actual arrival of the steel, how it got to Gander is a story in itself. Fudge sent a call out to all trucking companies that travel from New York to Newfoundland and Labrador. It isn’t easy bringing something so bulky, so heavy, over such great distances, but one trucking company decided to save the day, so to speak, and did so voluntarily.
“It was Day & Ross that helped us out. My hat goes off to them. I am so thankful they were able to pick that up for us,” said Fudge. “R+L Carriers picked the piece up at the Bethpage Fire Department, took it to the border, and Day & Ross picked it up from there. There was a lot of handling going on, and they did a bang-up job. I’m so proud, and if I don’t get so see them, and I’m hoping they’re going to be here for our service, I want to thank them personally for doing what they did.”