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the 9/11 decade

Thousands of passengers filed off the planes diverted to Gander in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, stranded far from home and fearful of a suddenly uncertain future. Many couldn't reach family. They disembarked only with what they were carrying, and had little sense of where they were, or where they were going.

The town of 10,000, once known as the "Crossroads of the World" thanks to its history as a refuelling post for cross-Atlantic flights, sprang into action. Residents all over the region were eager to welcome stranded passengers into their homes, and striking school bus drivers put down their picket signs to help transport them.

"We got on the school bus and the driver stood up and said, 'The name's Moody, but that's not what I is,' " remembered Shirley Brooks-Jones, an Ohio resident. "It just broke the tension."

The days passed as Gander's newest population, waiting for U.S. air space to reopen, grappled with the worst terror attack on American soil. Locals made runs for toiletries and clothing. Banks of phones were set up so people could call home for free. Televisions were gathered so the passengers could keep tabs on developments. So much food was donated that it risked going to waste.

The bonds formed in that difficult time turned into enduring friendships, many of which were reaffirmed this month, as several dozen of the diverted passengers made return trips to spend the 10th anniversary of 9/11 here. Among them was Ms. Brooks-Jones, who has spearheaded the Flight 15 Scholarship, which has helped 134 students from Lewisporte, where she was billeted 10 years ago.

"This is our second home," said Maureen Murray, who had been travelling back to New Jersey from Paris on Sept. 11 with her partner, Sue Riccardelli. They have returned repeatedly to visit Newfoundland and hosted trips to the United States by people they met here. The couple made a point of coming back for the anniversary.

"We wanted to be here for the 10 year, it's a reflection and a memorial," Ms. Riccardelli said. "It's hard to believe it's been 10 years. It feels like forever and it feels like yesterday."

To mark the milestone, the town has organized "Beyond Words," a month-long series of memorial services, performances and fundraisers, hoping to collect enough money through the events to offer a scholarship to children who lost a parent in the attacks.

On Sunday there will be memorial services in three area communities. The U.S. ambassador and Canada's Public Safety Minister Vic Toews will be in Gander, where a piece of steel from the wreckage of the World Trade Center will be officially presented to the town.

Locals say just about everybody in town ended up helping in some way that day. Many say that the hospitality came naturally – and that the international attention it sparked has been kind of embarrassing.

Thelma Hooper and her husband Bill, then the mayor of Lewisporte, hosted several people, including Ms. Brooks-Jones. She believes the fuss over the area's reaction is a bit much.

"I feel like, why all this attention?" she said. "We only did what anybody would do to help these people. But I realize people think it's something impressive."

Ten years on, the area's links to 9/11 have been somewhat diluted. People move in and out, and many current residents of the Gander region didn't experience the events personally. But for some of those who were here, it remains a special memory.

"In the short run it did change the community," said Malcolm (Mac) Moss, then in administration at the local campus of the College of the North Atlantic, which hosted stranded passengers. He cited a unity of purpose and community spirit.

"Once the dust settled everybody was proud of what they did. Quietly proud," he said. "With the realization that we did this and can do it again if necessary."

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