Author photo

By Jim Cornelius
News Editor 

McGowan to help re-create Flight for Freedom

 

Last updated 4/12/2011 at Noon

Oregonians lent moral and economic support to a stricken New York City in 2001. photo provided

Those were dark days.

In the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the destruction of United Flight 93 in a field in Pennsylvania, the entire nation was plunged into a caldron of painful emotions. Shock. Grief. Anger.

Jack McGowan, now living in Sisters, was then a Portlander, with his roots in New York City. He was consumed by a sense of depression and despair - and the need to DO something to push back against the darkness.

"I, like the rest of the country, was absolutely devastated for days after the event," McGowan told The Nugget. "It was a moment like Pearl Harbor."

Gathered to share their disbelief, McGowan and friends Sho and Loen Dozono (owners of Azumano Travel) and others conceived of an action that would show solidarity with the people of New York, reeling under the unprecedented blows struck by terrorists at the heart of their city.

"New York hotels and restaurants were totally vacant. Nobody was going out. Broadway had closed down....

"Loen came up with the idea of a reverse wagon train," McGowan recalled. The idea was to take a bus trip across the country, gathering participants along the way.

The friends quickly recognized that that would simply take too long - and time mattered.

"We needed to get back there as soon as possible," McGowan said.

Quickly, Dozono's idea had morphed into what would be called the "Flight For Freedom." It's mission: "Fly to New York City, look terrorism in the face and not blink."

McGowan went with an advance party to pave the way for the official flight, which included Oregon dignitaries and regular folks who felt compelled to show their support for New York and provide an urgently needed economic shot in the arm.

The Sisters man cannot recall the flight without tearing up.

"The pilot, on the intercom, tells us that he's a native New Yorker, that he knew some of the pilots who were killed," McGowan said. "Someone at the front of the plane starts singing 'America the Beautiful,' and as we're cruising, the whole plane is singing 'America the Beautiful.'"

The Oregon Flight For Freedom was welcomed with deep appreciation by New Yorkers, and the pilgrimage became an international story.

The Oregonians visited one of the fire stations that had lost firefighters in the collapse of the trade center towers and were honored with a special place in the Columbus Day Parade. They rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange and brought hundreds of workers back to their job at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, where they stayed.

A family from Condon visited a restaurant.

"The maitre d' clapped his hands and said, 'Ladies and gentlemen, these people are from Oregon,'" McGowan said. "And the whole restaurant gave them a standing ovation."

The impact of this simple show of solidarity was tremendous, not least for those who made the flight.

"It was one of the most profound experiences of my life," McGowan said.

Now, McGowan and fellow organizers the Dozonos and Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish are planning a return trip to New York City during the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

"It will be difficult to recapture the tremendous emotions we experienced when we traveled to New York only a few weeks after September 11, 2001, so we return to New York stronger and with the purpose of remembering that time in history and celebrating how our country has moved forward," said Sho Dozono. "Also joining us in New York will be hundreds of firefighters from all over the country. We look forward to honoring the many heroes who responded during those days that followed the attacks on America by bringing people from all faiths and backgrounds together in New York."

Dozono added, "This special Oregon delegation is open to all who want to take part in this heartfelt remembrance."

Flight For Freedom 2011 will coincide with the World Trade Center Memorial opening on September 11. In addition to the city's

commemorative events, Flight For Freedom organizers are also planning a Peace and Unity Concert at the Cathedral of St. John The Divine in New York, featuring Oregon

musicians.

For more information visit http://www.flightforfreedom.com.

Author Bio

Jim Cornelius, Editor in Chief

Author photo

Jim Cornelius is editor in chief of The Nugget and author of “Warriors of the Wildlands: True Tales of the Frontier Partisans.” A history buff, he explores frontier history across three centuries and several continents on his podcast, The Frontier Partisans. For more information visit www.frontierpartisans.com.

 

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