Monday, July 20, 2015

Memorials and memories

Gander, NL – Our day was a bit diffe-rent today, because we divided it between seeing sights and seeing people we knew. When you’ve been engaged in brief conversations with strangers day after day, connecting with folks you know is a very pleasant change, and so it was today.

The sightseeing portion of the day took us to Gander International Airport, which in its heyday was the largest airport in North America. We knew quite a bit already from our visit to the Aviation Museum yesterday, but it was good to see the actual location.
At the reception desk, we chatted with Russ, an airport employee with a toothless smile behind a snow-white mustache and a shiny bald head, plus a twinkle in his eye. He directed us to the visitor viewing platform on the second floor, where we could see the international departure lounge down below and the impressive 72-foot mural that was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II in 1959.

There had been talk about refurbishing the lounge, but there was enough resistance that the large hall has been allowed to remain the way it was in the 1950s, with floor tiles and furniture of that vintage. “Those seats have seen a lot of bums!” quipped Russ.
We ran into Russ again as we were leaving, and he strolled out to the car with us as he headed out for a smoke break. It turns out he was on duty on December 12, 1985 when the Avro Arrow plane bringing US military personnel back home from peacekeeping duties in Egypt crashed, moments after take-off, killing all 248 military personnel and eight crew members on board. He spent three days collecting human remains and helping to clear the crash site, and he said the memory of that tragedy still haunts him to this day.

A memorial called The Silent Witness is located at the crash scene that we drove to next, south of the air-port, where all 256 victims'names are recorded on a plaque, and the flag of the 101st Airborne flutters in the breeze. Small American flags are planted all over the grounds, and a statue of a soldier holding the hand of a small boy and girl is on display. Each child has an olive branch in their hand, and they stand as symbols of a peaceful future.

Our evening’s entertainment was dinner at the home of Len and Wendy – Len was a troopmate of Val’s with whom we had reconnected last year at the troop reunion in Regina. They told us to get in touch when we got to Gander, where they live, so we did! It was great to see them again, and Val and Len had a great time trading tales of their early years. Wendy put on a lovely spread; a real treat after camp suppers and restaurant meals!

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