Oregon Loves New York group photo
The “Oregon Loves New York” contingent got together on the steps of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art at the end of the 2001 Columbus Day parade and sang "God Bless America." (Photo courtesy of Betsy Ames)

It is hard to believe that next week will be the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The hijackings of four commercial airliners and the subsequent terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, are difficult to reflect on even to this day.

It was a morning of unimaginable horror as our eyes were glued to our televisions sets wherever we were watching the horrible plane explosions, human fear, followed by rapid building collapses happening right before our very eyes. Thousands were killed in mere moments.

“Oregon Loves New York: A Story of American Unity After 9/11" book cover
Sally Bourrie wrote about the Oregon trip to New York for a soon-to-be-released book, “Oregon Loves New York: A Story of American Unity After 9/11.” (Photo courtesy of Sally Bourrie)

We all wanted to do something that morning and yet most of us felt absolutely powerless and helpless. This month’s Love of Learning will focus on a beautiful story about how a small group of Oregonians stepped up to show New Yorkers how much we loved them in the wake of this nightmarish tragedy.

Just two weeks after that unforgettable day, when the world was afraid to board a plane, 1,000 brave Oregonians took multiple flights to show the terrorists they did not win and to boost the decline of the New York economy. The story about this trip is the focus of a soon-to-be-released book by Sally Bourrie, who was one of the Oregonians who made the trip. The book is appropriately titled “Oregon Loves New York: A Story of American Unity After 9/11.”

Sally was a freelance journalist living in Portland at the time and covered the trip for both the Chicago Tribune and the Boston Globe. Her book will be released at the Oregon Historical Society located in Portland on Saturday, 9/11, the 20th anniversary of the attacks. Sally will be interviewed by Kerry Tymchuk, who gave a virtual talk to the people of Philomath last October. If you wish to view the talk between Sally and Kerry, click here for details how to register.

If you are interested in purchasing Sally’s book that shares these acts of remarkable kindness in the face of unthinkable tragedy, I encourage you to visit www.oregonlovesnewyork.com on 9/11 and order one.

Mr. Sho Dozono was then the CEO of the Azuamo travel agency based in Portland and got together with the Portland Chamber of Commerce, and the leader from Oregon SOLV, an Oregon based, eco-friendly nonprofit. This group hastily contacted and organized 1,000 random people to take a “Freedom Flight” from Portland to NYC to show the terrorists that Oregonians were not afraid to fly and to show our support for New Yorkers who were grieving and trying to pick through the rubble of the Twin Towers.

The trip was advertised as a round-trip ticket and two nights lodging at the famous Waldorf-Astoria in midtown Manhattan for the bargain price of $379. What a bargain! 

Oregonians ring the Wall Street bell
Traveling Oregonians ring the opening bell on Wall Street. (Photo courtesy of Sally Bourrie)

One of the leaders of the Freedom Flight trip was Mayor Vera Katz, who grew up in New York City and served multiple terms as the mayor of Portland from 1993-2005. She helped lead the group throughout the trip to ring the bell on Wall Street, meet with then-Governor of New York George Pataki, and spend money patronizing local New York businesses that were economically suffering in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. This remarkable band of Oregonians also shared much-needed emotional support for all New Yorkers by marching in the Columbus Day parade. 

Councilor Marilyn Sileski was serving on the Philomath City Council at the time of the 9/11 attacks. She left her husband and three children behind in Oregon to brave the Freedom Flight to NYC in October 2001. She felt an obligation to go to both combat her own fears while offering emotional support for grieving New Yorkers.  

Marilyn said at the time the trip “was to give emotional support for New Yorkers. It was a phenomenal response. We were in the New York papers. We were deemed the most popular group in the Columbus Day parade. People were yelling from the sidelines. There were a lot of tears, from those in the parade and on the sidelines.”

She went on to conclude, “I can’t think of a better thing Oregon could have done to make a connection to New York.”

Oregon group in the Columbus Day parade
The “Oregon Loves New York” group marches down Fifth Avenue in New York City during the 2001 Columbus Day parade. (Photo courtesy of Betsy Ames)
Fashion photo of Peg Gerding
Peg Gerding was a fashion model in New York City. (Photo courtesy of Peg Caridi)

Peg (Gerding) Caridi is the only daughter of longtime Philomath residents, Hank and Delores Gerding. The poor girl had to put up with five brothers growing up (Ed, Greg, Tom, Tim and Terry). Little did she know that life with five roughhousing brothers would toughen her up for her future life as a New Yorker down the road.

While growing up in Philomath, Peg was a very active member of Benton County 4-H and was a cheerleader at Philomath High School for four years. She graduated PHS as a member of the Class of 1971. Later that same year, Peg was crowned the First Citizen Philomath for the Philomath Western Frolic in 1971 and in 1974 went on to compete in the Miss USA-Universe Beauty Pageant in Niagara Falls, New York where she was crowned Miss Oregon.

She later moved from Philomath to New York City for work as a glamorous fashion model. While working in the Big Apple, she met the love of her life Frank Caridi, who was born and raised in Manhattan, the heart of NYC. Frank and Peg were married in November 1983 in Lake Tahoe. I asked Peg for her reflections on 9/11 and she shared this special memory:  

Oregon Loves New York button
Each “Freedom Flight” participant wore this button while in NYC. (Photo courtesy of Sally Bourrie)

“The morning of September 11th, 2001 was the saddest and most horrific day of mine, and many lives. Witnessing the terror attacks on our World Trade Center, eventually disintegrating it with all those innocent lives into nothing but devastating debris, was beyond belief. But as true New Yorkers, we all stuck together and stepped up with love, compassion and anything we could to help each other.

“At that time, my husband and I had a restaurant in Manhattan called La Maganette. A few weeks after the attack, I was in our office and a waiter knocked on the door. He told me there were some people I had to meet. I was totally overwhelmed when I was introduced to four or five tables of customers that had flown in from Oregon to help our great city!

Peg and Frank Caridi on their wedding day
Peg and Frank Caridi on their wedding day Nov. 21, 1983. They spent their honeymoon in Oregon, of course. (Photo courtesy of Peg Caridi)

“That was one of the proudest moments of my life! As a born and raised Oregonian, it brought true tears to my eyes. God Bless America.”  

Frank and Peg Caridi did their part as well to help their fellow New Yorkers after 9/11. The midtown Manhattan NYPD precinct and FDNY firehouse were just a block away from their restaurant. The Caridis hosted a dinner for all the fallen firefighters’ and police officers’ families. They even had Gov. Pataki attend. As Peg warmly remembers, “Pataki gave a comforting speech, then sat with each and every family in attendance. It was heartbreaking to see their grief, but at least we tried to honor them and their loss.”

Never forget.

If you are interested in honoring the NYC first responders, innocent victims and service members we have lost in the 20 years since, you are invited to attend a Philomath 9/11 memorial event being organized by the Philomath Police Department and Philomath Fire & Rescue, along with the Philomath Frolic & Rodeo.

The event will be held by the lumberjack poles at the rodeo grounds starting at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 11. Seating will be limited so attendees are encouraged to bring folding lawn chairs. The ceremony will run about an hour. All members of the community are welcome to attend.

(Eric Niemann is a former mayor and city councilor in Philomath. He can be reached at Lifeinphilomath@gmail.com).