February 14, 2011 11:36 AM
A group of central Newfoundland basketball players recently went on the trip of a lifetime. They were invited to New York as a way of saying thanks for the help their communities gave stranded passengers when 39 airliners landed in Gander on Sept. 11, 2001. The trip of a lifetime became a trip of remembrance when they were given a special tour of the World Trade Centre site.
CBC asked Gander municipal constable Oz Fudge to record the World Trade Centre tour, which was turned into the following video. You'll also hear comments from some of the team players, including Vicki Pinksen, Kristin Holland, Vicki Freeborn and Stephanie Hynes.
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The CBC asked Fudge to describe how he felt during the tour, and this is what he wrote.
Ground Zero by Oz Fudge
To try and tell you how I felt when entering Ground Zero, I have to go back to when we were at the fire house and talked to some of the firefighters who worked that day, to hear how they had lost two members, and you could see the pain in their eyes when they told us about it, As we were driving to Ground Zero, listening to the lieutenant as he showed us fire houses that lost members, this one lost eight, this one lost nine, this one lost 13.
I knew that we were going to a place that was sacred ground for all Americans when we were outside the gate and were told that only kings, queens and presidents are allowed inside and we were going to get a guided tour.
As we went through the gate and walked toward the base of one of the buildings, I could feel the souls of all the people [who] lost their lives on that day, I had a hard time breathing. I felt sad, I felt proud - mixed emotions running through my mind. I watched 11 teenage girls who showed so much respect for where they were - make me proud - when the girls put the wreath at the base of the tower.
Capt. Cory Pinksen from the Salvation Army said a prayer on our behalf. I felt that I had fulfilled one of my dreams. I would like to have stayed for another hour or so, but knew that it was not possible.
The CBC also contacted Mike Fenster - the man responsible for the trip - to get his reaction to the tour.
Something had to be done
Mike Fenster is on the phone from Long Island in the United States. Fenster arranged the trip after watching a Tom Brokaw documentary on how Gander and surrounding communities took in 7,000 passengers after they were stranded during the attack on the World Trade Centre, leaving 3,000 people dead.
Fenster is a busy guy. He's a gym teacher and sports coach and heavily involved in extracurricular activities. But after he saw the NBC documentary, he felt something had to be done.
The trip to bring the central Newfoundland girls basketball team to a tournament turned into a bit of a roller coaster. The tightly scheduled trip was delayed by three days when the team, with their coach Oz Fudge, got stuck in Toronto because of a snowstorm in New York.
Fenster said, first, there was excitement, then the situation became sad and depressing and then there was relief when the team finally arrived. He said he was elated when he saw the expressions on the girls' faces. They were overwhelmed with the experience.
"We gave them the best experience we could," he said, thanking his school district for its support. "It was something that needed to be done."
The trip to Ground Zero, recorded by Fudge, was special.
"I personally was overwhelmed. That's sacred ground. [Ground Zero] is reserved for kings and presidents and dignitaries. It's not open to the general public. Very important people opened the door," Fenster said.
He also said he felt it was particularly important that Fudge - known as the man who gave the hug felt 'round the world when he tracked down an airline attendant to give her a hug from her sister - was able to do what he wanted to achieve closure.
"I just wanted Oz to experience what he was yearning to do, visit the site, and lay the wreath."
Fenster said he has kept in touch with Fudge since the team's return, and he's received a formal invitation to go to Gander to return the favour of his hospitality.