Another finest hour

Nothing will erase the pain of 9/11/2001 or the pain of 9/11/2012, but the water rescue of that day suggests that this was our finest hour. These valaint acts of “cultural enrichers” should never be forgotten. 

As a historian and news junkie, who actually read the 9/11 Commission Report, I was more than a little astonished to discover I knew nothing about a very interesting facet of the day’s heroics so began searching and learned some interesting facts. When the World Trade Center was attacked hundreds of thousands of people sought to escape lower Manhattan only to realize they were surrounded by water. When the crews of tugboats, party boats, cruise boats, every sort of boat saw people along the seawalls (or even diving into the water) the crews went to their rescue without prompting or plan, or a government study. The water rescue was already underway when the Coast Guard requested all available boats head to lower Manhattan.

It took nine hours to rescue the 500,000 people trapped in lower Manhattan that day, the largest sea evacuation in history, larger than the 339,000 British and French soldiers rescued at Dunkirk in 1940. Some might say the 9/11 boatlift was not as great perhaps because the Allies at Dunkirk were encircled by the German Army, knew they were in a war, and were rescued over a period of nine days in 900 vessels which were much slower than those used 61 years later. Yet the reality is that on 9/11 no one knew what was happening, and as one person explained it was thought the boats in the waters of New York City might also be a target. Anyone who remembers the day remembers everyone thought almost anything was possible -- and their town, place of work, the nearest power plant, whatever, might be the next target. Hence, it is not surprising all those people were eager to leave the site but the waterways were considered almost as dangerous as a land escape.

We know now the only other targets on 9/11 day were other cities, but at the time, no one knew this. Some of those who were rescued were literally in the water -- swimming to get away, despite the danger of being hit by a boat. Yet boats were the only way in or out of the area for the first time in more than 100 years. On that day, many ordinary Americans did extraordinary things. Some say it was the worst day in American history, I say this was our finest hour.

Nothing will erase the pain of 9/11/2001 or the pain of 9/11/2012, but the water rescue of that day suggests that this was our finest hour. These valaint acts of “cultural enrichers” should never be forgotten. 

As a historian and news junkie, who actually read the 9/11 Commission Report, I was more than a little astonished to discover I knew nothing about a very interesting facet of the day’s heroics so began searching and learned some interesting facts. When the World Trade Center was attacked hundreds of thousands of people sought to escape lower Manhattan only to realize they were surrounded by water. When the crews of tugboats, party boats, cruise boats, every sort of boat saw people along the seawalls (or even diving into the water) the crews went to their rescue without prompting or plan, or a government study. The water rescue was already underway when the Coast Guard requested all available boats head to lower Manhattan.

It took nine hours to rescue the 500,000 people trapped in lower Manhattan that day, the largest sea evacuation in history, larger than the 339,000 British and French soldiers rescued at Dunkirk in 1940. Some might say the 9/11 boatlift was not as great perhaps because the Allies at Dunkirk were encircled by the German Army, knew they were in a war, and were rescued over a period of nine days in 900 vessels which were much slower than those used 61 years later. Yet the reality is that on 9/11 no one knew what was happening, and as one person explained it was thought the boats in the waters of New York City might also be a target. Anyone who remembers the day remembers everyone thought almost anything was possible -- and their town, place of work, the nearest power plant, whatever, might be the next target. Hence, it is not surprising all those people were eager to leave the site but the waterways were considered almost as dangerous as a land escape.

We know now the only other targets on 9/11 day were other cities, but at the time, no one knew this. Some of those who were rescued were literally in the water -- swimming to get away, despite the danger of being hit by a boat. Yet boats were the only way in or out of the area for the first time in more than 100 years. On that day, many ordinary Americans did extraordinary things. Some say it was the worst day in American history, I say this was our finest hour.