Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim DeFede

Why I Read It: Re-read it, actually. A friend had lent it to me about a decade ago, I loved it then, and recently realized I didn't have my own copy.

Summary: Planes heading across the Atlantic on 9/11 were ordered down, and to avoid U.S. airspace. Many landed in Gander, a small Newfie town with a regional airport that was suddenly overwhelmed by thousands of confused and even terrified people.

My Thoughts: It's amazing what happens when money is no longer an issue, when life is placed in front of all else.

Gander, population 9,651 at the time of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001, welcomed 42 planes (38 civilian and 4 military) that day, really through no choice of their own. The planes brought an extra 6,600 people to town, people who needed to be fed, housed - indefinitely - and entertained. The town opened its schools, its church, its fraternal organization halls, every place the locals could think up, including their own homes.

They lined up at these places with sheets and blankets pulled right from their own beds, with home-cooked meals and with toys for the children on the flights. They gave, and they gave, and they gave, and they smiled as they did so. The "plane people" were worried and disconnected from loved ones, anxious to make phone calls. And they came from everywhere across Europe and North America. Stores opened up their doors and delivered anything and everything the plane people needed, at no charge.

9/11 had a strange effect on all of us. There was a certain survivor mentality among many of us, though most of us were never in danger. We pulled together and bonded in ways we definitely haven't since. We gave whatever we had - money for the firefighters' funds in New York City; volunteer time in so many ways; food and water; and so much more - and never considered the aftereffects, like a lightened bank account. It was just the right thing to do.

And so it was in Gander. They consider it the "Newfie way" to extend a hand to a stranger in town in need. While many of us were wondering how we could help, removed from the scenes of the attacks, distant from the people who died as a result, the people of Gander were helping a community almost the size of their own, squeezing them into every possible space in town.

The author regales us with the details, the names, the faces, the remarkable frozen-in-time situations that made each individual's story unique. He reminds us that in the face of evil, when the world is at its darkest, hope and love can still outshine everything else.


  1. You hooked me when I saw this was about Gander, Newfoundland. I had never heard of Gander before, and did not make note of it during the events that transpired on 9/11. However, several years later, when I started homeschooling my kids, there was a teacher in Gander who had put together this really interesting unit on Vikings and put it on the web. I was so thankful for all the work he had put into it. Because of that, I felt like I had a connection to that little town, regardless of how weak it was.

    So, when the name Gander came up for this book, I was intrigued. I tend to stay away from books about 9/11. Not sure why. I'll read about WWII and other difficult subjects, but for some reason not 9/11. Thankfully, I have no personal connection to it (My husband flew from Hartford to Philly that morning and called me to say he was okay before I even knew what was going on).

    And this book seems to be about the best of humanity and we can all use more books like that. Going on my "to be read" list. Thanks!


  2. What a great connection for you. I'm with you - 9/11 isn't a topic I seek out, and I believe it's simply because I don't want to "go back there." I didn't live through World War II, so it has an air of heroism and adventure about it. 9/11 was all too real.

    Though this story has its sad points here and there, the bulk of it relates the amazing way the people of Gander pulled together to help the strangers. It is uplifting, beautiful and heart-warming.