This article is part of Pamplin Media Group's 20th anniversary coverage of the Sept. 11 attacks.
America's most celebrated shopping spree is documented in a new book released on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack on New York City.
"Oregon Loves New York: A Story of American Unity After 9/11" tells the story of hundreds of Oregonians who traveled there mere weeks after the collapse of the World Trade Center that claimed nearly 3,000 lives, including many first responders.
The goal, two decades ago, was to boost the besieged city's ailing economy and support its grieving residents. But, as told by author Sally Ruth Bourrie, the Flight for Freedom — as it was dubbed — turned into a coast-to-coast feel-good story that raised the spirits of the entire country. New Yorkers embraced and celebrated the Oregonians, including then-Portland Mayor Vera Katz and travel executive Sho Dozono, who organized the multiple flights and stays. National TV shows like "Good Morning America" covered it live.
"It turned out to be much bigger than we ever expected," said Dozono, the now-retired Azumano Travel owner, who told Pamplin Media Group the idea came from his wife, Loen. "We thought maybe we'd go back with 10 or 12 friends. But when word got out, people started calling and wanted to show their support, too. We finally had to cap the number at 1,000."
[The Oregon Historical Society will post an online interview with Sally Ruth Bourrie by director Kerry Tymchuk at noon on Thursday, Sept. 9.]
It took 16 flights over several days to bring all of them to the besieged city. While there, the Oregonians were easy to spot in their matching "Oregon (heart) New York" T-shirts and buttons. They were repeatedly stopped on the streets by shell-shocked residents, hugged, thanked for coming to town, and presented with personal stories of sacrifice and suffering that could not be held back any longer. Mostly led by Katz, the visitors also marched behind surviving New York firefighters in the Columbus Day parade, rang the bell at the New York stock market on the first day it reopened, spoke at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine's Blessing of the Animals, dined at Chinatown banquet for 700, and appeared on network TV news and talk shows.
"The symbolic commitment to be a part of the recovery of New York from these horrible attacks meant a great deal to all New Yorkers and sent a very positive message to the entire nation. The Flight for Freedom demonstrated that people from 3,000 miles across the continent felt comfortable and safe in the streets, and that message got out in the rest of the country," former New York Gov. George Pataki said about the Flight for Freedom.
They were not the first or only Oregonians who traveled to New York City after the attack. So did four Portland firefighters, and volunteers with Red Cross and Northwest Medical Teams, including health care workers and mental health counselors. But the shoppers from Oregon captured the public's imagination.
One of the visitors was Bourrie, a writer who lived in Portland and covered the trips for the Chicago Tribune and the Boston Globe. Others came from all parts of the state, including then-Fifth District Congresswoman Darleen Hooley, State Treasurer Randall Edwards, state Sen. Margaret Carter of Portland, Multnomah County Chair Diane Linn, and such business leaders as Portland developer Joe Weston. Some brought their families. The Flight for Freedom was completely volunteer-based. Airlines and hotels offered prices at less than cost. Packages started at $379 for airfare and two nights at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel.
Twenty years later, it is hard to remember that planning or taking part in such a trip took real courage. Although the terrorists who planned the attacks had gone into hiding, governments and the public feared more strikes were coming. All commercial flights were canceled and non-military aircraft grounded immediately after the hijackers flew captured airliners into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. A fourth suicide mission thought to be targeting the White House or the U.S. Capitol Building was only thwarted because the passengers overpowered the hijackers and the plane crashed in rural Pennsylvania. Even when commercial flights were allowed to resume a short time later, most people were too afraid to fly, crippling the airline industry and continuing to devastate the economies of such tourist-reliant economies as New York City.
As the owner of a travel agency, Dozono immediately understood the magnitude of the crisis. He furloughed most of his employees and retained just enough workers to process the refunds for customers whose flights were canceled. At the time, Dozono also was president of the Portland Chamber of Commerce, now the Portland Business Alliance. When the board of directors met a short time later, he explained the need to restart the economy to the other business leaders. He proposed they consider his wife's idea of a shopping trip to New York City. According to Dozono, it was immediately embraced by U.S. Bank President John Rickman and Bank of America Regional Executive Roger Hinshaw.
Convincing Katz to go was a little harder. Although from New York, she was always afraid of flying. And because the terrorists were Islamic extremists, the federal government warned Katz she could be a target because she was Jewish.
"People don't understand how brave she was to do it," Dozono said.
In addition to Katz, several other former New Yorkers in Portland also helped organize and took part in the trips. They included future City Commissioner Nick Fish, whose family had long been involved in that state's politics, and former local TV host Jack McGowan, who would become the executive director of the nonprofit SOLV cleanup organization.
The experience was not always uplifting because of the grimness of the catastrophe. Shortly after he returned, George Haight told the Woodburn Independent he made a side trip to Ground Zero that he regretted.
"I was walking through canyons of skyscrapers that are blackened by soot 16 stories high, office paper is still flying around on the streets. it's very eerie and spooky. I needed to get out of there. I hadn't expected to be quite so overwhelmed by it. In fact, a woman came jogging by me, she just lived a couple blocks from the towers and she said, 'Are you OK?' 'Actually not. We're supposed to be here to give you folks a hug from Oregon and say we're in the same boat here, but by golly, I'm the one who needs a hug,'" said Haight, a Woodburn resident who has since passed away.
The new 969-page book features interviews with more than 75 participants, stories of nearly 300 Freedom Fliers, and 200 photos from the trip. It is much more than a retelling of the Flight for Freedom, however. Bourrie also wants to show the remarkable differences between Oregonians and New Yorkers that were bridged in the response to the tragedy. It opens with a travel guide of Oregon and includes comparisons of the demographics between the two states and a history of Portland politics. She says it has a larger message of different people coming together.
"The context is providing a greater understanding of Oregon, that it's not just hipsters and ultra progressives in rainy Portland drinking coffee, which for me made the idea of Oregonians coming together more meaningful as well as their feeling of kinship and caring with people who, on the surface, seemed so different. And my hope would be that people today could understand that it's possible to come together," Bourrie, who now lives in Washington, D.C., told Pamplin Media Group.
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