This is a photo of the John J. Harvey as its passengers disembark onto the deck of the USS Slater. This photo was taken on August 20th, 2001.

It was a greyish day, a little cooler than we thought it should have been so late in the summer and as my husband and our son, all of four years old and a dedicated junior fireman took a stroll along the Troy riverfront, the John J. Harvey was getting ready to sail down the Hudson to NYC to its new home as a museum and historic landmark.

They had been giving free rides between Troy and Albany. The crew offered them a ride, but the voyage was one way only. Could someone pick them up in Albany?

Mom, of course. Please…

The hoses went to work, drawing water up through the pumps from the river and out again, demonstrating how the fireboat worked before its retirement in 1995. Sprays of water arched against the grey clouds. The passengers got a little damp. I could see a tiny sample from the adjacent highway as I was driving to get to the drop off area before they arrived.

The gangplank was laid between the ships, the Harvey and the Slater. Both crews had done this several times before that summer. As they went from one former working boat turned floating museum/historic landmark to another, they were given a quick tour of the Slater as well.

From crew to passenger, their days were made!

No one knew that day was a mere three weeks from the bright blue September sky that turned black with the rising smoke from four hijacked airplanes.

We know the story of September 11th. We were there or we watched it unfold in real time on our television sets. We frantically called family and friends. We watched in horror as one tower fell and then the second, the incessant sound of beeping of firemen down.

Along the waterfront of Lower Manhattan, however were boats. Big boats, little boats, sailboats, fishing boats, trawlers, ferries, the Coast Guard. If it could get in the water and do runs from Manhattan to Staten Island and Brooklyn or wherever they needed to go, they went, and they continued to go until everyone who wanted to leave had left.

This was the largest water rescue since Dunkirk.

The John J. Harvey came out of retirement and went back into the fire service that day. They ran hoses and they ferried passengers. Other firefighters came out of retirement simply because they knew they were needed. They searched. They rescued. They recovered. They and the John J. Harvey exemplified that day what it meant to be a public servant, a fire fighter; what it meant to be an American.

September 11th isn’t mattress sales and rolled back prices. It’s the day they thought we could be torn apart but instead brought us together.

Read about the heroes of that day.

Read about the John J. Harvey. Visit her at her home at Pier 66.

That four year old of mine is now 19. He is a fireman and an EMT, and he is in his second year of college studying the fire protection service.

Support your local fire departments.

Support the 9/11 First Responders.

Stories of September 11th should be told, and will be told even when the witnesses have gone.

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