Editor’s Note: With the beginning of bow season soon starting, we all need to remember what our bowhunting brother went through on September 11, 2001. Many times we walk past giants and never see them. Such is the case with William Jimeno of Chester, New Jersey, one of the last three people found alive after the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center (WTC) on September 11, 2001. As a first responder, he put his life on the line for others who didn’t survive. According to Will, “During my recovery after 9/11, I went from a wheelchair to a walker to Canadian crutches and then to a cane. I still have to use a brace to walk, and I have a dropped foot. But as I look back over our ordeal, I feel fortunate. I still can enjoy bowhunting deer and chasing turkeys. I began bowhunting – my favorite pastime – on November 11, 2002, a year after 9/11 when I was buried alive. I had looked in a magazine and saw there was a place in Maryland called Cherry Blossom Farm. I reached out to the owner, Joe Taylor, who was a really-nice guy. I told him my story, and he invited me to come down and hunt with him. I told him the only way I could hunt would be off a ladder stand. Joe told me not to worry that he’d have me a ladder stand. On the last night of the hunt, I missed a nice buck, a big 8-pointer. My arrow flew over his back. As I left, I told Joe thank you, because he’d helped prove to me that I still could hunt. Today I hunt out of ground blinds a lot, but I hunt from a tree stand sometimes. I’m a Mossy Oak Pro.” Jimeno has a story to tell that we all need to hear, remember and then draw courage from what happened.
I was in ICU for 4 weeks, couldn’t hardly talk and was frustrated to let people know what had happened to our team. I was swollen – even my fingers – and barely could write. I looked like the Michelin Man. I used sign language to tell anyone and everyone who had been lost in the rubble, what had happened to us there.
No one explained that our Port Authority department had lost 37 officers, afraid of how the information would harm me mentally. Then some Port Authority friends brought in a poster and pointed out the people lost.
I hoped I wouldn’t die. I had eight surgeries in 2 weeks, was in excruciating pain and had my leg laid open after the doctors cut away muscle tissue from compartment syndrome that caused my organs and muscles to shut down due to being crushed.
I had to prepare myself for what would happen daily: more operations; skin grafting, which was horrible pain; and the uncertainty of living or dying. I prayed I’d survive another day. The medical staff was very concerned about blood clots and kept me on Coumadin.
Next I was transferred to the nationally-known Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange, New Jersey, for 6 weeks. In a wheelchair for 2 months, I graduated to a walker, then Canadian crutches and finally to a cane.
The therapists at Kessler told me, “Work hard, and we’ll take you to the hospital to see your baby’s birth.” The ability to see new life through Olivia’s birth on November 26, 2001, after encountering so much tragedy and death renewed my spirit and gave me hope for the future.
Quite a few months passed before I was able to become independent. For about 6 months, I couldn’t walk on my own. Even today I have a fear of falling since my left foot catches on items and causes me to fall.
One thing I’ve learned is that life is short. You start off as a baby in diapers, and if you live long enough, you’ll be an older person in diapers. I became very depressed about my progress early in rehab. I always had loved the outdoors – especially hunting deer and turkeys – and had watched Toxey Haas and Ronnie “Cuz” Strickland from Mossy Oak on TV shows. I admired them. They appeared to be regular guys, and the kind of people I’d like.
After a hard day in rehab in November, 2001, trying to determine how much function I could regain, and whether I’d ever walk again, I talked with my wife about how upset I was about not being able to hunt during the upcoming deer season, and maybe not ever being able to go hunting again. She called the people at Mossy Oak and told them about my condition. The next day I got a phone call and heard a voice say, “Hey, man. I’m Toxey Haas from Mossy Oak.” I got upset and started to cry. I completely fell apart. I couldn’t even talk. My wife took the phone and told Mr. Haas, “I’m sorry. Will is emotionally upset right now. But if you’ll hold on just a minute, I know he wants to talk to you.” When I got back on the phone, Toxey said, “Hey, man. What’s up? Why are you crying?” I told him, “You’re the head of Mossy Oak. For you to take time away from Mossy Oak to call and talk to me really means a lot to me.” Toxey responded with, “Hey, I’m just a redneck.” I answered, “No, that’s not true. You’re an American, and you took your time to call me – a fellow American – in my time of need.” Toxey and I talked for awhile, and he really lifted my spirits. Soon after I talked to Toxey, “Cuz” called and told me, “Will, we’re sending some videos to you, so, while you’re in the hospital, you can watch our hunting DVDs. One day when you get well, we’ll go hunting together.”
In 2003, Mossy Oak invited me to come to the Archery Trade Association (ATA) Show and bring my wife. We hung out at the show with many of the people I’d seen on TV who were part of Mossy Oak. At that show, a hunt was auctioned off, sponsored by Mossy Oak and Primos Hunting (http://www.primos.com/). The person who bought the hunt was to go on a hunt with me, and the proceeds from that auction would go to the families of The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s 37 policemen who had lost their lives on 9/11. The late Dick Kirby, then the president of Quaker Boy Calls (https://www.quakerboy.com/), bought the hunt. We were supposed to go hunting in 2004, but Mr. Kirby had some health issues, and we finally hunted together in January, 2005, at Portland Landing in Alabama. I shared a camp with Mr. Kirby, “Cuz” and the Mossy Oak camera crew.
What’s Happened Since Jimeno’s Gotten Out of Therapy:
In 2006, Oliver Stone made a movie, “The World Trade Center” (http://www.amazon.com/World-Trade-Center-Widescreen-Edition/dp/B000JLTRKE) and in the movie, Nicholas Cage played Sgt. John McLoughlin, and Michael Pena played me. Sgt. McLoughlin and I were advisors for the movie. In the movie, some of the policemen and firefighters were actual policemen and firefighters who worked tirelessly to rescue us.
To make the movie as accurate as possible, Sgt. McLoughlin and I told our side of the story, and the rescuers told the story from their points of view. We couldn’t tell anyone what the rescuers saw or felt during the time we were in the hole, so, Scott Strauss, Paddy McGee and some of the other rescuers were brought in to tell their sides of the story.
Although the movie came out in 2006, it’s still being used today as a teaching aid for police departments and being shown to school children. We’re proud that the movie about our tragedy is hopefully still helping people.
Today I hunt turkeys and deer as often as I can. But on some days, especially in the wintertime, I can’t get myself together and have to stay on the couch all day, due to my injuries. I want to hunt turkeys, although I can’t walk far. Since my leg has been crushed, severing the nerves to my left foot, I have foot drop. I wear a brace on my left leg to enable me to pick up my foot and a compression garment also to keep my blood flowing. I still have numerous scars and a hole in my leg, resembling a shark bite.
I’ve had so many wonderful things happen with my family. My daughter Bianca graduated from Auburn University, and my youngest daughter Olivia is headed to college. If God allows me to live another 10-20 years, I hope to be able to see my daughters with their families and have my wife Allison by my side. I plan to still represent the people who didn’t get out of the WTC and tell their stories about this dark yet victorious time in America’s history. I want young people to know who’s bought their freedom and allows them to live free and hunt.
To learn more about facing difficulties, go to John E. Phillips’ book, “Courage: Stories of Hometown Heroes,” available in Kindle version at http://amzn.to/VBrcCM. To see all of John’s hunting books, available in Kindle, print and Audible, go to http://amzn.to/XW2URC