CoolPeople At CoolSys
Memories of 9/11 Through the Eyes of a Rescuer and CoolSys Team Member
When it comes time to count our blessings this Thanksgiving season, thousands of people who lived through the nightmare of 9/11 in Manhattan will likely think of a tugboat named the Mary Gellatly. That name is also dear to the heart of Herb Jones, who was the boat’s chief engineer for 30 years and now works in the warehouse of BRR Refrigeration, a CoolSys company in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, the Mary Gellatly was anchored at the Statue of Liberty, waiting for orders to go up the Hudson River. Standing at the bow of the boat, Herb saw a jet flying unusually close to Manhattan. “I thought maybe it was in trouble,” he recalls. “It was flying low over the Hudson—and then it flew into the World Trade Center. I ran inside to tell my brother, who was a deckhand on the boat, about what I had just seen.”
Soon afterward, a call from the Coast Guard summoned all available boats to Manhattan’s Lower Battery. Tunnels, bridges and subways off the island had been closed, making water the only escape route for the hundreds of thousands of injured, dazed and frightened New Yorkers who were gathering at the south shore of Manhattan.
Immediately, the Mary Gellatly headed toward the Lower Battery, arriving even before the police or fire department were able to respond to the scene. Herb’s boat was joined by dozens of others that responded to the Coast Guard’s call for help.
In the hours that followed, the Mary Gellatly shuttled an estimated 175,000 people to safety across the Hudson to Jersey City, New Jersey. On each trip, 400 to 500 people jammed into every available space on the boat. “They were packed in like sardines,” Herb says, “on the deck, in the engineering room, all the way to the wheelhouse. Our main purpose was just to get them away from there.”
Among the thousands of people the Mary Gellatly rescued, Herb particularly remembers the 150 police officers who boarded to receive first aid before returning to the scene of the disaster. “They got patched up and went right back into the buildings,” he said.
In total, 500,000 New Yorkers were rescued over the course of nine hours, making this the largest sea evacuation in history. The dramatic story is recounted in BOATLIFT, a 12-minute documentary by actor Tom Hanks. Herb worked directly with Hanks, providing many of the facts for the film and appearing in it.
Today, Herb and his wife are raising three grandchildren, and he came out of retirement four years ago to join BRR Refrigeration. Although more than 19 years have passed, the events of 9/11 are still difficult for Herb to recount—and many are so painful that he is unable to even speak of them. He flatly refuses to be called a hero, saying instead, “I don’t want people to thank me; I want them to thank God that I’m there to help. This is what I was put here to do. I look at this as just being obedient to God’s calling.”
Herb, your CoolSys family salutes you for your bravery and your dedication to help whenever and wherever you can!
If you or someone you know at CoolSys has a story to share, please reach out to CoolTimes@Coolsys.com, and you might be our next Cool Employee highlight.