Christopher Nolan’s $150 million film “Dunkirk” may be the first that many Americans have heard about “Operation Dynamo,” the beachfront rescue in 1940 of 338,000 Allied troops trapped between Hitler’s army and the sea. But what most people probably don’t realize is that a larger and faster maritime evacuation actually took place here in the States less than 16 years ago.
Three quarters of a century later, Dunkirk is getting its due. What continues to go largely unrecognized, however, is the spontaneous boatlift that came to the rescue when terrorists struck the US on September 11, 2001. As I reported in my book, crews aboard ferries, fishing boats, and tour boats joined mariners of all kinds to launch an unplanned maritime evacuation in New York Harbor that delivered nearly 500,000 stranded civilians off Manhattan Island in less than nine hours.