'Ganderites' visit 9/11 Memorial ahead of Come From Away Broadway debut

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'Ganderites' visit 9/11 Memorial ahead of Come From Away Broadway debut

Oz Fudge took off his hat as a sign of respect before he entered the 9/11 Memorial in New York City Friday.

The Gander municipal officer was here once before — six years ago, when the building was under construction.

"The base of the towers were there and they were just constructing this, and it was almost like you could feel the souls of everybody," Fudge said.

The memorial and museum sits at Ground Zero and acts as tribute of remembrance to those who died.

Fudge said their presence is felt. 

"That's why I even took off my hat because that's the type of respect they need and it's almost like they're here and they're watching what's going on here."

When 6,000 passengers were stranded in Gander hours after the attack on the twin towers, Fudge leapt into action. He was part of an emergency response team offering help where it was needed. 

Seeing the tributes and pieces of twisted metal left behind from a horrific attack resonates even more for Fudge because of his job. 

"It's in the DNA. It's in my DNA, it's in my son's, it's in any officer; you go to a scene to try and save. That's why you go," he said. "And they [first responders] went and there was no one to save."

In the five days after all commercial and general aviation air traffic was halted, friendships were born and everlasting bonds were forged, as Gander and surrounding communities served up meals, offered places to stay and opened their arms to stranded passengers.

Broadway bound

It's those stories of compassion that will play out on stage when Come From Away makes its official debut on Broadway Sunday night.

Fudge will be there. So will fellow 'Ganderite' Beulah Cooper.

"I know it's going to be emotional but I'm still looking forward to it," Cooper said, as she walked through the sombre, hallowed underground museum and memorial.

Cooper, who greets you with a hug rather than a handshake, is also portrayed in Come From Away. 

She too has a connection to first responders — her son is a retired member of Gander Fire Rescue. 

The glitz of a Broadway show doesn't overshadow the tragedy that took place more than 16 years ago, and it's never far from their minds.

"No words can describe it," said Cooper.

After a successful run in California and Washington and showings in Toronto and Newfoundland, Come From Away debuts at Broadway's Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on Sunday.