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History Unplugged Podcast

with Scott Rank

American Dunkirk – How Half a Million New Yorkers Were Evacuated from Manhattan Island on 9/11

00:00 48:08
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The most famous large-scale sea rescue in history is the Dunkirk evacuation. Here nearly 400,000 Allied soldiers were surrounded by the German army in 1940, and Winston Churchill said, "the whole root and core and brain of the British Army" had been stranded at Dunkirk and seemed about to perish or be captured. But they were rescued off the coast of France between 26 May and 4 June in an improvised fleet. But few know there was actually a larger evacuation that happened in America, and it happened immediately after September 11th.

At 10:45 AM EST on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, the United States Coast Guard issued the call for “all available boats” to assist the evacuation of Lower Manhattan. But hours before the official call went out, tugs, ferries, dinner boats, and other vessels had already raced to the rescue from points all across the Port of New York and New Jersey. In less than nine hours, approximately 800 mariners aboard 150 vessels transported nearly half a million people from Manhattan. This was the largest maritime evacuation in history—larger even than boat lift at Dunkirk—but the story of this effort has never fully been told.

Todays guest, Jessica DuLong, author of the book SAVED AT THE SEAWALL: Stories from the September 11 Boat Lift, tells this story on the 20th anniversary of 9/11. She discusses how the New York Harbor maritime community delivered stranded commuters, residents, and visitors out of harm’s way after the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. A journalist and historian, DuLong is herself chief engineer, emerita of the retired 1931 New York City fireboat, John J. Harvey. She served at Ground Zero, spending four days supplying Hudson River water to fight the fires at the World Trade Center. To tell the story of this marine rescue, DuLong drew on her own experiences as well as eyewitness accounts to weave together the personal stories of people rescued that day with those of the mariners who saved them.

As DuLong explains, “Still today few people recognize the significance of the evacuation effort that unfolded on that landmark day. This book addresses that omission. The stories that follow are the culmination of nearly a decade of reporting to discover how and why this remarkable rescue came to pass—what made the boat lift necessary, what made it possible, and why it was successful.
September 09, 2021
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Meet Your Host
Scott Rank is the host of the History Unplugged Podcast and a PhD in history who specialized in the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey. Before going down the academic route he worked as a journalist in Istanbul. He has written 12 history books on topics ranging from lost Bronze Age civilizations to the Age of Discovery. Some of his books include The Age of Illumination: Science, Technology, and Reason in the Middle Ages and History’s 9 Most Insane Rulers.. Learn more about him by going to scottrankphd.com.
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