‘Something anybody would have done’
Lancaster County man recounts role in 9/11 maritime evacuation
What Mark Hershey remembers most about 9/11 was “the suits,” meaning the well-dressed executives of New York’s Financial District, the sort of men and women who wouldn’t even notice Hershey if they were to pass him on a sidewalk in Lower Manhattan.
Hershey, then in his mid-30s, was “a blue-collar, salty tugboat guy,” as different from the high-rolling stock traders and investment bankers as one can be.
But Sept. 11, 2001, changed that.
The suits needed his help.
Historian and journalist Jessica DuLong wrote “Saved at the Seawall: Stories from the September 11th Boat Lift,” which was published in May. DuLong is also chief engineer, emerita, of the John J. Harvey, a former Fire Department of New York vessel called back into service to pump water at ground zero for four days after the attacks.
The mariners’ role in rescuing so many people is one largely not known but that’s been changing, and she thinks with this being the 20th anniversary of the attacks the waterborne rescue effort will finally see deserved recognition. (In 2011, Tom Hanks narrated a short documentary, “Boatlift,” about the evacuation.)
Hershey’s account, DuLong said, “is similar to many stories I’ve heard that day. It was just this absolute need that people of all walks of life, not just mariners, but all walks of life, had to help … This compulsion to help others who were in trouble.
“That is hugely representative of who we are, and that happens in disasters again and again throughout history. You see regular people rising to meet the challenge,” DuLong said.
What made it possible for the mariners to come together to help — spontaneously, at first — was their professionalism, close-knit community and knowledge of their vessels and the harbor, DuLong said.
And the stories of that day — of regular people doing what they could to help others — have lessons for us now as we continue to navigate the COVID-19 challenge, DuLong said.
“There is nothing like a global pandemic to show us, in stark relief, how dependent on one another we are,” DuLong said, suggesting that what could be seen as simple acts of helpfulness — stocking a free community food pantry, helping a person in need cross a busy street — have tremendous power.
“Kindness and empathy are contagious,” she said.