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.
After a short while, I heard Sgt. McLoughlin’s voice saying, “Sound off!” Sgt. McLoughlin was stuck in a fetal position behind a concrete wall below me. I had a lot of pain in my left side, and I could see Dominick face down in the push-up position right next to me. I finally figured out that a wall had fallen in on me, but Dominick was just packed in debris and didn’t seem to be injured. I yelled at Sgt. McLoughlin, “Jimeno,” and Dominick yelled, “Pezzulo.” I started screaming for Antonio (Rodrigues) and Chris (Amoroso), other members of our team of five, but I got no response. Later I learned they were both killed by debris. Finally Sgt. McLoughlin, Dominick and I realized that we needed to try and develop a plan to get out of the hole.
After Tower One had fallen and a portion of Tower Two, I was 30-feet under an enormous pile of debris from the WTC. I knew that Sgt. McLoughlin was alive, and my friend Dominick Pezzulo, who was 3 feet from me, and I were alive, but I didn’t know if there was anyone else who had survived. We realized we must have lost Antonio Rodrigues and Chris Amoroso, a part of our team of first responders. I knew that I was pinned in the hole and had no way of escape. I also knew that Sgt. McLoughlin couldn’t get free from the wall that separated him and me.
However, Dominick Pezzulo told us, “I think I can get out.” As I watched, he squirmed his way out of the debris he was in and crawled over my face to get a little ways further up in the hole where we were all buried. Dominick asked me for a couple of breaths from my Air-Pak, and then he squirmed his way even further up the hole. I knew that Dominick probably could crawl out of the hole.
Dominick yelled back to Sgt. McLoughlin, “Sarge, I believe I can get out of this hole and go for help.” But Sgt. McLoughlin said, “If you leave, you’ll never find us again!” Sgt. McLoughlin was a part of our SWAT team. He taught rappelling and all types of tactical defense and aggressive courses that tactical officers needed to know. He was responsible for the security at the World Trade Center.
Dom and I talked about what he should do. He yelled back to the sergeant and told him he was going to try and get me out from under the concrete. For the next 20 minutes, Dominick attempted to free me from the heavy debris. But a big piece of rebar (a steel bar used to reinforce concrete) was wrapped around me. Every time Dominick would pull on the rebar to try to free me, the rebar would fly back and hit me. Since my whole left side was being crushed, I was already in a lot of pain and didn’t feel I needed additional pain. At the end of 20 minutes of trying and then being totally exhausted, Dominick said, “Will, I don’t believe I’m going to be able to get you out.”
At that instant we heard a loud “boom,” and that’s when 1 WTC came down. I made the, “I love you sign,” with my fingers and then laid them across my chest. If I was ever found, my wife and children would know I was thinking about them before I died.
Just as I put my arms across my chest, I heard something come down the hole, and it hit Dom. I heard McLoughlin scream. After the sound of the falling building faded away, I could hear Sgt.
McLoughlin screaming in pain.
I looked at Dominick and saw blood coming out of his mouth, and a huge piece of concrete was right in the center of his body. Dominick was only 3 to 3-1/2 feet away from me and told me, “Will, I’m dying.” I told him, “Man, hold on.” He cracked a joke and then said, “Will, don’t ever forget. I died trying to save you and the sergeant.” And, I said, “Don’t worry, Dom, I’ll never let anyone forget what you did for me and Sgt. McLoughlin.
Dominick pulled out his service revolver and shot up through the hole to hopefully let someone know we were alive and in the hole. After firing the shot, Dominick slumped over, and his weapon fell to the ground. That was one of the toughest times of my life. I knew I’d just lost my good friend, Dominick Pezzulo, who had graduated from the Port Authority Academy with me.
How Jimeno Prepared to Die:
About 25 minutes to an hour after my friend Dominick Pezzulo died, while we were trapped at the World Trade Center on 9/11, fireballs started coming into the hole toward me. I realized if one of the fireballs hit my uniform I’d be burned alive. But the fireballs were putting themselves out just before they got to me. Later we learned there was cold air coming up from beneath us, and apparently the cold air kept putting out the fireballs. I know I saw a miracle happening just above me.
A couple of those fireballs hit Dominick’s weapon, and I heard, “Pop, pop.” The fireballs were causing Dominick’s pistol to shoot at me. I put my hands over my face and hoped if a bullet hit that it would hit my hand and not kill me. Once the shooting stopped, I knew I was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. I yelled back to Sgt. McLoughlin, “Sarge, I can’t do this anymore.”
At that point, I made my peace with God and was ready to surrender my soul. I prayed, “God, thank you for 32-great years, for my beautiful wife Allison, for the 4 years I’ve been able to spend with my beautiful baby girl Bianca and for my parents who have taught me to be a good person and how to be a good American. Thanks for everything you’ve ever given me. If today’s the day I’m going to die, thanks for letting me die trying to serve people. When I get to heaven, please give me a drink of water, because I’m so thirsty. And, somehow and some way, if you take me today, let me look down from heaven, and see my baby girl who hasn’t been born yet.”
My wife was 7-months pregnant, and the thought of not being able to see my second child born hurt more than any of the physical pain I had to endure. Then I closed my eyes. I was ready to give up. However, when I closed my eyes, I saw a vision – a figure walking toward me wearing a white glowing robe with no face, but with brown hair to his shoulders. Over his left shoulder, I could see a pond with trees around it, and there was a lot of peace there. Over his right shoulder was an endless sea of tall green grass waving with the wind. As I studied the vision coming toward me, I realized the vision was Jesus, and in His hand He had a bottle of water. I snapped out of that vision and knew I wasn’t going to die. If I died, it wasn’t going to be because I gave-up. I told myself, “Will, if you die, you’re going to die trying to get out of this hole.
How Jimeno Determined Not to Let the 9/11 Terrorists Win:
I yelled back to my Sergeant, “Sarge, we’re going to get out of this hellhole; we’re not going to let the terrorists win!” I also realized at that moment that if I died, then there was no hope for my sergeant who was 15 feet behind me. I was the only person who could yell for help for both of us. I also knew I would have let down my family, and more importantly, I would have given up on my country and let the terrorists win.
At that point, Sgt. McLoughlin and I began to talk about our families and anything else to get away from the pain we were enduring. I was swollen up and looked like the Michelin Man from the tire commercial, only 10 times bigger. I tried to find any of the equipment I had on when the tower came down. I couldn’t locate my handcuffs, but I found my pistol. I realized that I couldn’t use my pistol, because I’d taken out the magazine with my bullets in it, so I wouldn’t be able to fire my weapon without thinking first. I used my pistol like a hammer to break the concrete and attempt to free myself. However, after putting it down, I couldn’t find my pistol again. About 7:00 pm on 9/11, our hole where Sgt. McLoughlin and I were became dark as night fell over what had been the Twin Towers of the WTC.
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
Tomorrow: What Hearing Voices of Hope Meant to Bowhunter Will Jimeno on 9/11