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Remembering 9/11: The Day Canadian Town Of Gander Opened Its Doors, Hearts To Complete Strangers

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – “They would come to the Lions Club and say, `Hey, who needs a shower? Come over to my place.’ And that’s pretty trusting of a bunch of strangers that landed there, you know?

Roxanne Loper was among the nearly 7,000 passengers who were stranded in the small Canadian town of Gander, Newfoundland on 9/11. Loper was aboard one of the 38 planes diverted to Gander after the United States shut down its air space following the attack.

For the better part of a week, the people in Gander – and surrounding towns such as Gambo, Appleton and Lewisporte – opened their doors to the Plane People, as the unexpected guests were called.

“We did what we had to do,” recalls Bruce MacLeod, who lived in Gander at the time and opened his home to Roxanne, her husband, Clark, and the two-year-old girl the couple had just adopted in Kazakhstan, Alexandra.

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“People were in need, and we were the ones to provide it,” he added.

“They were family immediately,” Roxanne said of Bruce and his wife Susan.

The story of what happened in Gander offered a ray of light in an otherwise dark time. Shortly after 9/11, I went to Gander and wrote a book, “The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland.”

Since then, there have been movies, documentaries, and the Broadway musical, Come From Away, recounting this remarkable tale.

“If you got to see what I saw, you’d seen people coming up to passengers, locals and giving them that hug and telling them, you know, you’ve got nothing to worry about; you’re here in Newfoundland and Labrador, and we got you,” recounted Oz Fudge, who was the town constable in Gander in 2001.

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Fudge was one of the first people I met in Gander and twenty years later he is still mystified by all of the attention the town’s actions have garnered. But he thinks he understands it better now.

“If you look at the world today and you see on the TV and you see on your Facebook and everything, how people are getting angry at each other and they’re fighting on airplanes and they’re fighting on trains and they’re fighting in grocery stores,” he tells me. “And now people are looking at this play and reading the book and seeing the documentaries and going, ` I remember, I remember that’s what it was like when I was growing up.’ And they’re longing for that.”

“It has helped a lot of people to realize that there needs to be more of that kindness,” Loper added.

MacLeod said the folks in Gander feel like the lucky ones.

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“We all said, we think we got more out of it as far as good feelings and whatnot, then the passengers did,” he said. “Because we felt so good being able to do it.”

Roxanne made sure her daughter, Alexandra, who is now 22, understood what happened on that fateful day.

“I have told her about the kindness of strangers,” Loper said. “And I’ve I have tried to instill in all of my kids to continue with that kindness any time they see anyone that needs any help. We don’t know their story. We don’t know what they’re going through. We just know they need help. So help them.”

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