The Silent Witness Memorial
Today I drove to Gander, Newfoundland and Labrador, which has many claims to fame.
Most significantly, Gander International Airport used to be perhaps the most important and impressive airport in Canada.
All planes crossing between North America and Europe stopped at Gander, a town of only a few thousand, to refuel. Its terminal was paid for by Canada's federal government and every single thing in it, from the floor tiles to the chairs, is a priceless creation by a famed designer.
And so Gander was a temporary playground for the world's powerful and famous. These include Fidel Castro, who first experienced snow in Gander and ended up establishing a lifelong pen-pal relationship with a local Newfoundland woman. These also include Soviet leaders and every American celebrity, from Marilyn Monroe to Frank Sinatra.
It is truly hallowed ground, from a pop culture perspective.
But it's also, quite literally, hallowed ground.
Gander has had the unwanted good fortune of being able to help in two great American tragedies.
Most recently, the September 11 terrorist attacks.
When American air space was shut down, dozens of planes bound for various U.S. destinations were forced to land at Gander as they finished crossing the Atlantic from Europe. The number of American passengers almost exceeded the population of the town.
But this is what happened:
• Video Link
TLDR: The town opened its arms, brought mobile phones, clothes, toiletries, blankets, opened up their homes, set up shelters at schools, offered free services from hair cuts to massages, and simply did everything possible to make these Americans' terrified time in their town a little easter.
And, a follow-up: these Americans have been incredibly generous to us as well. Hundreds return every year to visit the families they lived with for days on end. Thousands have contributed to funds used to provide scholarships to Gander students. Some have returned to Gander to get married, or spend their honeymoon.
But this thread is about an earlier tragedy: the deadliest airplane crash ever in Canada.
Arrow Air Flight 1285 was carrying U.S. troops home for Christmas from Cairo, Egypt, to their home base in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. On the morning of Thursday, 12 December 1985, shortly after takeoff from Gander after re-fueling, en route to Fort Campbell, the aircraft stalled, crashed, and burned about half a mile from the runway, killing all 256 passengers and crew on board. It is the deadliest aviation accident to occur on Canadian soil.
The Silent Witnesses Memorial is almost barbaric in its simplicity. Where the downed flight scraped the ground bare down to the bedrock, there is a long, narrow clearing.
That's the memorial. It's haunting. It's ssssooo silent. And the surrounding area is so beautiful. But you know it was a snow-buried hell in December of 1985. Those soldiers never got to see the area in its summer beauty, just as they never got to enjoy the joys ahead of them in their lives.
Over the years, statues and flags and all that sort of thing has been added... but the scar on the earth, which has been allowed to grow over as it will, is the memorial.
So, without much additional comment, all my pictures of Gander, a typical suburban town of a few thousand, its famed airport, and the Silent Witnesses Memorial:
• Video Link
The modern extension of the terminal:
The old, famous terminal:
The legend of one of the many collages of famous people to have visited Gander:
At the memorial:
This newspaper clipping was laminated and tacked to the memorial, suggesting his family VERY recently visited and placed it there.
Breaks my heart.