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Stephenville’s 9/11 role remembered each year

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter STEPHENVILLE — On Monday Sept. 11, the Town of Stephenville held an event commemorating the role the Royal Canadian Mounted Police played during 9/11. Back in 2001, when 9/11 took place, Stephenville was one of the airports planes were rerouted to as a safety precaution during the unfolding situation in the U.S. “Stephenville airport, its geographical location, for a lot of the high-level air routes, and a lot of international flights that transit to North Atlantic, we’re classed as a trans-oceanic plane stop emergency alternate landing, tech stop landing and stuff like that. So from time to time we have international flights that come in due to medical emergencies or in the case of an unruly passenger where the RCMP have to respond to take somebody off an aircraft,” said Mayor Tom Rose. “So Stephenville has got a long history. We were commissioned as an air base in the early years, 1941. But during 9/11, the decision to land planes in Gander and Stephenville was a big decision, and I think it was strategically made because we had the capacity to handle these flights. We were in a good geographical location, but also, because of the terrorist attack, I don’t think they wanted these aircraft landing in big city centres where you could have a big collateral damage like what happened at the World Trade Center, the Twin Towers. So I think that’s why places like Stephenville were chosen. There’s a bunch of reasons, but probably the deep one is location, location, location.” The Town of Stephenville banded together to assist the passengers of the 13 flights that were rerouted to their airport. ‘We have so many community groups. We have a phenomenal emergency disaster plan in place. All these community groups have got their volunteers, but what was special that day is citizens just stepped forward, businesses stepped forward to help, and the human kindness and how humanity kicked in was critical that day for Stephenville,” said Rose. “We’ve got the same story as Come From Away. Gander was selected. They had 30 something aircraft. We had 13 aircraft. They had a bigger presence, but the same stories exist. People, how individuals, families and relationships got built, it’s just the other day I got an email on 9/11 actually. I got an email from a professor, a doctor in New York, who reached out to me as the mayor of Stephenville just to thank me once again for what the community did for her during that event. So all those stories are still prevalent and it was the day that will go down in infamy and we played a role. Newfoundland did.” Even though Stephenville didn’t get the same level of international attention as Gander did, there are definitely no hard feelings. “It was the producers and somebody had a vision of creating a story that would be significant. It happened in Gander, but it could have been easily been Stephenville as well. That’s why when I became the mayor, I decided to start having commemorative events in Stephenville to hold on to the history of that,” said Rose. “I believe this one was the fifth year since I’ve been the mayor, these 9/11 commemorative dinners, recognizing community groups and basically for me it was so important. The only year we didn’t do it, was the one year when COVID was ongoing.” The Town of Stephenville, especially considering its history as a U.S. air force base, has special ties with our neighbours to the south. “That’s something that we pulled on, our relationship with U.S. airlines. We’re truly an international town because of our port and our airport, our former U.S. Air Force Base, and like we’ve just partnered with Lake City, South Carolina on a PBS cultural event that took place here last June, and that will be aired on PBS. If not the fall it will air come January, and it’ll talk a lot about the air base in 9/11.” The town has experienced several large scale signature events aside from 9/11. “In 1963, when President Kennedy was assassinated, our parents, grandparents — I was only three years old, but if you ask any of our grandparents and parents, they will remember what they were doing,” said Rose. “And we even had an individual the other night who was in school that day, 1963, he was probably, I’d say ten or twelve years old, and they all had to kneel down and pray for President Kennedy, and that’s a day that people remember. But 9/11 is also a day, if you ask anybody in Stephenville, what were you doing when you heard about the Twin Towers, they are going to remember. So these were significant events that affected a lot of people, and to me, we will continue where we recognize every community group and this year, we recognized the role that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police played, which was very important.” During the event on Monday night, Rose was extremely pleased to see the support from the large number of people who showed up. “We had the turnout we anticipated. We had pretty well all of our community groups that were involved who had representatives there,” said Rose. “It was a little different format this year. There was a commemorative mass that took place at seven. So instead of having a dinner to be in conflict with that, we decided that people at the mass would be invited to come and we had a wine and cheese at the Days Inn at 8:00 p.m. So it worked out really good. It was a really nice night. People got to mingle. I had a few words as the mayor and we had Staff Sergeant Troy Bennett speak on behalf of the RCMP. Also, we announced that next year, the theme of the event, the community group that we will be recognizing will be Search and Rescue, Gerry Clark and the team.” This is an event Rose hopes will always continue, regardless of who sits in the mayor’s chair. “I’m hoping that when I finish my mayorship, whenever that happens, that the new mayor will carry on the legacy.”

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