“Some people are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them,” said United States Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson during a ceremony in Gander Sunday to mark the 10th anniversary of 9-11.
“On September 11, 2001 the people of Gander had greatness thrust upon them.”
During his address at the Beyond Words Tribute ceremony, Jacobson said when the United States sent out a call for help, it was the people of Gander, Appleton, Gambo, and other towns in the area who stood up and answered the call.
Jacobson thanked every person who helped spread light in the darkness that followed the devastating attacks.
Emotion dripped from every word, as the people of Gander listened to the man representing Canada’s neighbour to the south. Gathering his words at several points, Jacobson spoke with a heavy heart.
At times, he fought back tears.
Just a few feet from the podium, his wife, Julie Jacobson reflected what he was feeling.
Tears escaped down her cheeks, when Gander’s Kim Wiseman and Charlotte Gushue sang the “Star Spangled Banner.”
“Ordinary citizens, who were confronted by extraordinary events, gave light to darkness,” Jacobson said.
Without waiting to be asked, the people of Gander and surrounding area opened their doors to complete strangers, a safe haven from the turmoil enveloping the globe, he said.
“The story of 9-11 in Gander is on one hand a story of logistics ... but a decade later, what endures is a basic story of human kindness, of generosity and good nature,” he said. “All of this in a time of chaos, and a very dark fear.”
The ceremony was held at the Gander Community Centre to remember the day when “the plane people” arrived in town, and to pay respects to those who paid the supreme sacrifice during the attacks and the aftermath.
Before the ceremony got underway, the Gander Community Choir filled the community centre with an emotional rendition of “Amazing Grace.”
Following the song, the crowd of approximately 2,500 sat in silence as local first responders were led to their seats by the air and sea cadet marching band.
Firefighters from Gander, and Gambo entered behind the RCMP, dressed in their traditional red uniforms, as well as members of the Canadian Armed Forces.
Gander Mayor Claude Elliott was the first to step to the podium.
He paused and collected his thoughts before addressing the members of his community and distinguished guests.
“Ten years ago today, as we started our normal day, we did not know the world was about to change,” Elliott started, adding what transpired on that day was a low point in history.
He said it was a day when the world saw the worst of humanity.
“In Gander, Newfoundland, in Lewisporte, Appleton, Norris Arm, and all across this great country, we saw the best of mankind,” he said to an overwhelming applause.
“Good can outfight evil any day,” he said. “Today, we need to pay tribute to the fine men and women we see here today — the first responders.”
Elliott pointed to the firemen, the policemen, and paramedics who despite overwhelming circumstances answered the call.
“When we were running out, they were running in,” said Elliott. “Today, they are the real heroes.”
Elliott told of his experience in Washington to accept the International Community Resilience Award a few days before Sunday’s ceremony.
“I wondered, why was I here to accept this award?,” he said.
Turning to Jacobson, Elliott said it was a privilege and honour to help out his countrymen in their time of need.
“We weren’t asked to do it, we weren’t told to do it, we wanted to do it,” said Elliott. “The smiles on the people’s faces as they left Gander was sufficient thanks for what we had done for your people during that difficult time.”
Premier Kathy Dunderdale addressed the crowd on behalf of the province.
“Just as we are gathered here in Gander, so too are there ceremonies in Washington, Pennsylvania, and New York City,” she said. “People are gathering now to mark a day that fundamentally changed the course of history for all of us as human beings.”
Dunderdale said in the hours of darkness, humanity found the values that are important.
At the heart of this discovery was the origins of the bonds that bring together the countries of Canada and the United States as friends. A bond that remains unbreakable, even in the face of such tremendous adversity. A bond based on a shared commitment to the preserving and promoting the values of liberty and honour, she said.
“Values so precious that people would lay their lives on the line to secure them for those they love,” said Dunderdale.
As the hand of terror threatened those values, Dunderdale said, people around the world sought out ways to show their appreciation to the United States.
What the people of Gander, and the surrounding areas did that day was something special — something people across the globe wished they had the opportunity to do.
“By offering a kind hand, an open heart, and an unconditional labour of love.”
For the thousands who had their flight plans altered, the people of Gander offered a bright spot in a world that was both confusing and terrifying as the passengers had very little knowledge of the situation that us unfolding in their home country.
A special presentation
Before the ceremony wrapped up, Elliott dedicated a piece of steel from the World Trade Centre that arrived in town earlier in the month.
Joining Elliott on stage were Mike Fenster, a teacher from Long Island, New York, and Lt. Bill Seiter from the New York Fire Department.
“One of these pieces of steel is presented in memory of the Bethpage firefighter Brian Hickey, who was commanding Rescue 4 Sept. 11, 2001, and he lost his life in the second tower,” he said. “It gives me great honour to accept these artifacts in memory of Brian, Kevin (O’Rourke), and those who lost their lives in Washington, New York, and Pennsylvania 10 years ago today.”
The two pieces of steel will be showcased in the North Atlantic Aviation Museum.
Elliott had some proud words to say about the people of his town, and people from towns of the surrounding area for the selfless actions undertaken on that day.
“What you do for yourself dies with you, but what you do for others lives forever.”