The U.S. Coast Guard was on scene just over an hour after the first plane hit during the 9/11 attacks. Members of the service evacuated half a million people from Lower Manhattan and stayed on to help clean up New York.


Coast Guard Petty officer Billy Bashaw, from Station Fire Island, bows his head in sorrow onboard his rescue boat Sept. 11. Bashaw has close friends who work in the World Trade Center who are still unaccounted for. (USCG photo by PA2 Tom Sperduto)

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Manhattan was thrown into chaos as more than 500,000 people fled towards the water. They were looking for any way to get off the island and away from the dust, debris, and fire that came from the World Trade Center.

No one on the ground at the time knew for sure what was really happening. What New Yorkers did know is that they wanted to flee to safety, and on that sunny Tuesday morning the Coast Guard took immediate action. The first tower was struck at 8:46, and by 10 AM, more than 40 Coast Guard cutters and boats flooded towards the southern tip of Manhattan.

Coast Guard crewmembers patrol the harbor after the collapse of the World Trade Center. Terrorist hijacked four commercial jets and then crashed them into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania countryside. USCG photo by PA3 Tom Sperduto

"We felt the impact of the plane hit the Pentagon as we watched New York on TV," then-Commandant of the Coast Guard, Admiral James Loy recalls, "and we knew that it was a large-scale terrorist attack."

Seen is an aerial view of Pentagon after a hijacked airline crashed into it Sept. 11. Terrorist hijacked four commercial jets and then crashed them into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania countryside. (U.S. COAST GUARD PHOTO)

Loy relied on his junior officers to put into action their exhaustive search and rescue and port security training. Those men and women quickly realized they couldn't go at it alone.

A radio call to any boats that could help came from Lt. Michael Day, the Chief of Activities New York – Waterways Oversight Branch.

"United States Coast Guard aboard the pilot boat New York," he called. "All mariners, we appreciate your assistance."

He went on to ask for any vessels to head for several areas set up by the Coast Guard to help shuttle more than 500,000 people off the island. They also had to recover people who attempted to swim towards Staten Island and Jersey City.

New Yorkers rushed to the Lower Manhattan water front at Battery Park to try to escape the collapse of the World Trade Center towers September 11. They were later evacuated by ferries and tugboats from all over New York harbor. (USCG photo by Chief Brandon Brewer)

Nearly 80 vessels shuttled supplies and personnel between Manhattan Battery and Jersey City as a part of the relief and clean-up efforts in the days following the attack. Loy also changed the course for every cutter on the Atlantic coast to cease migrant and drug interdiction operations and to begin defense readiness and port security operations.

The Coast Guard continued to stand the ready-guard in the weeks and months following 9/11. The world was unsure of whether the attacks would happen again. The Coast Guard guarded every nuclear power plant on navigable U.S. waters. They worked tirelessly and around the clock for months, a part of the recovering and cleanup efforts at the World Trade Center, as well as performing their regular duties.

"You could just see the exhaustion in everyone's eyes as they worked, unrelenting in trying to just find a survivor," reflects Senior Chief Machinery Technician Tina Claflin, who served with Coast Guard Atlantic Strike Team as a Machinery Technician 2nd Class, on her time working in the clean up efforts.

The Master Chief of the Coast Guard Vince Patton, reads some of the messages Thursday that have been applied to the first responder fire truck near the World Trade Center disaster site. Patton was visiting the site to pay respects and to visit with the Coast Guard personnel who are assisting in the recovery. (USCG photo by PA2 Mark Mackowiak)

In everything the Coast Guard did in the aftermath of 9/11, the service didn't forget its core values of honor, respect, and devotion to duty. As Patton reflected on the efforts in New York, he said: "When we all rallied around honor, everything just fell into place."