The great boatlift of 9/11 became the largest sea evacuation in history. Larger than the evacuation of Dunkirk in World War II where 339,000 British and French soldiers were rescued over the course of nine days. On 9/11, nearly 500,00 civilians were rescued by boat. It took nine hours.
If you don’t do anything else this September 11th, watch this video.
If you’re feeling glum about being American, watch this video
If you’re one of those who believes we have become increasingly sedentary, uncaring, sheep-like, watch this video.
What I love most about the Manhattan Boat Rescue story is the fact that, for so long, it was an untold one. That, for years – while the firemen, EMS and law officers were lauded for their heroics on September 11th, were given their (very) just dues – the New Yorkers depicted here went largely unnoticed. In fact, they were probably kicked back in their boats, tipping a beer and sharing tales of their . . . well, yes, their heroics.
They look like such ordinary people, don’t they? Because they are.
But listen, just listen, to what they did. When the towers were burning, when absolute panic and chaos had set in, they turned to their spouses and their kids, and they said “I’ve got to do something.” And then they did. They got into their boats and, without training, without protection, with no thought whatsoever for their own well-being, they went to work.
It’s easy, now, to remember September 11th through a veil. A day in history that has begun to take on sepia tones. But the reality was absolute terror. And when these ordinary people in their “ferries, private boats, party boats” answered the Coast Guard’s call for help, they had absolutely no idea what they were getting into. Their world was burning, Manhattan was being evacuated in the only way possible – by boat – and like the firemen, they were running into the fray.
“I just had to do something.”
Listen to them in the background, that edgy accent encouraging, cajoling, steering people – strangers – to safety. “Over here,” and “I want you to hold my hand.” Listen to them and ask yourself if you’re not proud to be an American.
This, this is who we are. Sometimes, we only need a mirror to see ourselves.
Here, today, when we commemorate our darkest moment, let these common, ordinary New York Boat Rescuers be your mirror. They are America.
We are America.
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