On the day of the Sept. 11 attacks and the weeks following, the innate impulse to save fellow citizens rose from the very core of each first responder. Whether they were emergency response professionals with years of training or business executives and fishermen with zero knowledge of crisis response, citizens and professionals joined forces to shine hope in the most hopeless of circumstances.
In the same spirit of sacrifice that countless New Yorkers and those at the Pentagon were exhibiting, passengers aboard Flight 93 fought back. Not for their own personal gain, but to save the lives of others. Their actions were perhaps the most selfless of all, as they sacrificed their own lives for the greater good of others.
Stories like that of Flight 93 are so moving they not only send chills down our spine, but stir within each the will to honor their memory and tell their story.
And for the many of stories that have been told in the decade after the attacks, countless still remain untold. The evacuation of close to 500,000 people from Lower Manhattan on Sept. 11 is the world’s largest maritime evacuation in history, and is an account not many have heard.
The story of those who were part of the evacuation was recently highlighted in the documentary project Boatlift. From tugboat to passenger ferry, the maritime community bonded together to form a fleet of ships to evacuate the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers fleeing Lower Manhattan. As the improvised armada evacuated their fellow citizens to safety, in close to nine hours, they performed unselfish actions that were on the threshold of the impossible.
“Even in the most unfathomable damage and destruction and disasters, there is a resiliency in the human spirit of Americans that can take on challenges,” said Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp after viewing Boatlift at the 9/11 Tenth Anniversary Summit.
While it was hard to see any glimmer of hope on a day of such sorrow, responders did see firsthand demonstrations of bravery from everyday citizens and trained professionals. It was this capacity for courage that strengthened rescue efforts and saved countless lives. These citizens turned first responders stood alongside professionals and put their lives on the line.
At the very beginning of Boatlift is a quote by Romain Rolland that succinctly states, “A hero is a man who does what he can.”
Indeed the first responders of 9/11 did everything they could.