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September 2015 Heroes of the Month: Unsung Heroes of 9/11

Last year on the anniversary of 9/11, I highlighted the vision and courage of Rick Rescorla. This year, on the 14th anniversary, it is time to honor the unsung heroes of 9/11. I have selected the people of Gander, Newfoundland Canada and the crews of commercial and private boats from New York and New Jersey that volunteered for the largest water evacuation in history.

First, the people of Gander. I have always been proud of my father’s Canadian heritage (our family roots are in Brantford, Gulph, Kitchener and Waterloo, Ontario) because of what great and kind people the Canadians are and always have been.

On 9/11, all commercial airline flights into the United States were diverted after the attacks. Hundreds of airliners and almost 20,000 passengers landed in Canada, over 39 airliners and 6,579 passengers and crew in tiny Gander, Newfoundland, a town of 10,000. With no advance warning, airliners just started landing at Gander and the people opened their homes and their hearts to all who came. Most stayed for three or four days before clearance was given to return home.

On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, our Ambassador to Canada, David Jacobsen, and a New York City firefighter presented the people of Gander with two steel girders from the World Trade Center in appreciation for what these good people did: “Gander was a beacon of light in the dark, showing the way to hope and humanity in a time of death and despair.”

There is also a wonderful book written by Jim Defede (The Day the World Came to Town, Harper Collins, 2002), and this year a full-length play (“Came from Far Away”) that opened at the La Jolla Playhouse in 2015, written by husband and wife team Irene Sankoff and David Hein. Julie and I were privileged to see it the night the cast and crew were joined by a delegation of people from Gander that they had invited to see the play. Everyone was given a long and heartfelt ovation by those in attendance. The play sold out every night and is now headed to Broadway.

My second tribute is to those who answered the call of duty in New York Harbor on 9/11 and who made it possible for over 500,000 people to return from Manhattan to their homes in a little over 9 hours! 

It was entirely fitting that Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada was invited to speak in New York at the tenth anniversary off 9/11. Harper offered this tribute to New Yorkers: “While Canadians share in the grief of those mourning loved ones lost, we also honor the incredible acts of courage, sacrifice and kindness by those who served in the rescue efforts.” He could easily have been speaking about the crews who volunteered their time and effort for the greatest boatlift in history.

Please take the time to watch these video tributes and honor these very special, unsung heroes of 9/11. — Jim

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