by JAYMIE L. WHITE
Special to The Appalachian
STEPHENVILLE — Twenty years after that fateful day, 9/11 is far from forgotten and neither are the efforts by of the Town of Stephenville. Stephenville Regional Airport, college, hospital, non-profit, and first responder organizations were instrumental in ensuring the safety and security of the passengers whose planes landed in Stephenville.
Twenty-seven planes were expected to land in Stephenville that day, but due to the fog rolling in, that number was reduced to eight commercial planes and approximately 1,200 people. Meals, showers, accommodations, and communication were offered to each of the passengers over the course of five days.
Mayor Tom Rose believes the town could have handled many more aircraft than were able to land in Stephenville that day.
“It’s interesting because that day the weather moved in on us in Stephenville, and more aircraft went to Gander primarily, and some went to Halifax and St. John’s. If our weather would’ve not dropped in Stephenville, we probably would’ve had more aircraft,” said Rose. “With our massive runways and tarmacs, we could’ve handled every single aircraft they had to land in Atlantic Canada parked in Stephenville. That’s how immense our infrastructure is.”
Rose recognized the efforts of everyone involved during 9/11 and says Stephenville played a significant role during the event.
“There are people from doctors to airport personnel that went to work the morning of 9/11 that never stopped working for three days straight,” said Rose. “We are a town that has so many resources from our RCMP to the 2nd Battalion C Company, our reserve unit in Stephenville from the Canadian Armed Forces. From the armories, to the college, to the hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, you use the resources you have to accommodate. We are well organized as a community. Our emergency disaster response services went right into place that day.”
The mayor highlighted the importance of remembering 9/11 in Stephenville every year.
“One of the things I started doing when I became Mayor was I started commemorating the annual 9/11 event,” said Rose. “Our first event three years ago recognized the role the fire department played in 9/11. The second year we recognized the role the Sir Thomas Roddick Hospital played, but last year we didn’t do anything because of COVID. We postponed commemorating that year, but my goal is to set a precedent to do an annual commemorative event, and I hope the new council moving forward will continue the legacy.”
This year, the 20th anniversary of 9/11 coincided with the 80th anniversary of the Ernest Harmon Air Force Base. In the Spring of 1941, construction first began on the base, which was originally referred to as Stephenville Air Base. It was renamed Harmon Air Force Base in 1943 in honor of Captain Ernest Harmon who died during a test flight in 1933. By 1956, after numerous expansions, Harmon Air Force Base was the largest air force base outside of the continental United States.
A dual-commemorative event was held on Saturday evening, Sept. 11 in honour of both historical events. A special thanks was given to the Canadian Red Cross and the role they played.
A cocktail hour took place at 6:00 p.m., followed by dinner at 7:00 p.m. Introductions were made by Stephenville Councillor Maurice Hynes, MC for the evening and president of Branch 35 of the Royal Canadian Legion.
“The Americans left behind a legacy – almost 4.5 billion dollars worth of infrastructure, and thank goodness we managed to keep it,” said Hynes. “We are so fortunate that through our provincial government, our citizens, we kept this place alive. It’s a part of our legacy that we’re proud of.”
Hynes also gave a shout out to Christine O’Brien who was at Ground Zero during 9/11. O’Brien helped recover bodies and clear debris for two weeks afterwards.
Rose also gave special thanks to the many individuals and organizations who did their best over the course of the town’s 9/11 response in 2001, and an Off Course Film by College of the North Atlantic was played at the commemorative event.
“Tonight is a very important night for us. Tonight we are recognizing the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the day of infamy, that this community, this town, and volunteers played a critical role in,” said Rose.