My husband Steve has now officially been on Facebook for a year, and has sent me all manner of memes and videos. Some are funny, some are zany, some are aggravating, some are touching and some are truly inspiring. This week he sent me one that was so inspiring that I watched it 5 times in a row. It is entitled Boat Lift, and is only 11 minutes long. It is about the biggest boat lift in human history, the one that occurred on September 11, 2001.
I have several family members who live in New York City, and to say that the day we now refer to as 9/11 changed them forever is a great understatement. My sister heard the first plane go into the tower, and she saw the second one. As such, because I had people who were “boots on the ground” that day, I thought I had a pretty good handle on what happened. I have been in a live audience to hear Rudy Giuliani talk about the challenges he faced that day as a leader. In Iraq, I was around several members of the Fighting 69th National Guard Unit who were activated that day, one whose post was on the corner where my sister lives. However, it was not until last week that I learned about Boat Lift, and I have told everyone in my life about it.
When the Twin Towers were hit, people became aware for the first time in a long time that Manhattan is indeed an island, and they wanted off. They ran down to shore, and some jumped into the water in their panic. And then, the Towers collapsed, and it seemed that the shore was now lined with dust covered zombies. A call went out from the Coast Guard for all boats in the area to please come to the shore in order to rescue these people. The smoke from the tower made it look like a “pea soup fog,” and they headed into what they knew not.
There was a yacht owner who told his wife he had to go, and she called him “a maniac,” but she understood. Ferry boat captains and crews, tug boat captains and crews, and innumerable private small vessels came and went over the space of 9 hours. Some hung sheets on the rail of their vessels spray painted with destinations such as “Hoboken.” A woman in a wheel chair was lifted, (while still in her chair) over a fence as though she was in a mosh pit, and was carried to safety. At the end of the day, they successfully lifted 500,000 people off the island. By comparison, when Allied soldiers were rescued at Dunkirk, it took 9 days, and the numbers were somewhere near 350,000.
As you see these “old salts” recall that day, several get misty-eyed, and for good reason. For one, it went off without a hitch, and without a pre-established emergency management plan. While I have been in a situation where I had to do mass casualty training, and am thankful for those who design contingency plans, the fact that it was essentially an organic event made it all the more remarkable.
On every level, it was extraordinary, and was America at its finest. While I hope that in my lifetime there is no reprise of September 11, I know the chances are good that we will face similar things once more. However, as we have seen in Alabama when there have deadly twisters, most often it brings out the best in us, as it did that day for the citizens of New York. Boat Lift can be seen online for free, and is narrated by Tom Hanks. It is 11 minutes well spent, in my view, and I hope it encourages all who take the time to view it.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner