By: Gabe Griffith
On October 20th, Will Jimeno came to Newnan High School to speak about his experience being buried alive on 9/11. The Newnan High School History Department planned an afternoon-long celebration of the sacrifices made by the heroes of 9/11, and Jimeno’s speech headlined the daylong event at 6:30 P.M. in the school’s auditorium.
To kick off the afternoon, History Club members had a screening of the film “World Trade Center” to commemorate the importance of what Will Jimeno experienced as a first responder on the day that changed the course of the nation.
After students watched the powerful film depicting the reality of the attacks of 9/11, History Club members and History Teachers served a pancake breakfast dinner for local first responders.
Local emergency services were invited to not only enjoy the hearty meal of pancakes, bacon and sausage but to be recognized and thanked for all their efforts and emergency services. After the breakfast cookout, students and first responders alike filed into the auditorium for the main event.
Shortly before Jimeno took the stage, The Cornerstone Men, a men’s choir, opened the event by singing patriotic songs such as “God Bless America” and also led the packed auditorium in the Pledge of Allegiance to begin the ceremony. Upon Jimeno’s entrance, a roar of applause erupted in the auditorium.
Jimeno began his speech by first mentioning his upbringing at a Catholic school that would inspire him to become a police officer. He spoke to the audience about the positive influence and community building effect that he saw police officers having on both himself and others around him in his early life, “I saw a side of law enforcement that made a difference.”
Jimeno would be inspired by the efforts of law enforcement and civil servants to commit his own life to a similar sense of duty and service, later to become a law enforcement officer himself.
After six long years, he was given his chance to become a Port Authority Officer. During August of 2000, Jimeno entered the police academy to further his knowledge of the laws of New York and New Jersey and ready himself for a career in civil service.
On January 15, 2001, he graduated from the academy at the World Trade Center, but little did he or anyone else know that later that year, he would be returning under very different circumstances.
Jimeno loved his job as a police officer, because he felt like he was making a difference in the world around him for the better.
“Every morning I would wake up excited to go to work, and September 11th was no different,” he said.
On September 11th, Jimeno recalled how during a routine shift that day a dark shadow covered an entire city block, and he watched the shadow until it disappeared. He saw his partner looking up, following what caused the shadow. Only a few minutes later their radios would begin calling all officers to what they would realize was an attack on the World Trade Center Towers.
Jimeno returned to his station and saw the trade center burning from a television. When his Sergeant was calling off names to go help those trapped in the burning building, Jimeno did not hesitate to jump into action.
“I didn’t wait for my name to be called,” Jimeno recalled.
Once the officers reached the towers, they went to get gear to help begin rescuing the individuals who were trapped. In this brief moment before the towers fell, Jimeno recalled the valiant efforts of the civilians, “In the midst of horror, I saw a lot of love.”
Shortly afterward, he heard a huge explosion and felt a tremendous rumble. Thanks to the leadership of Sergeant John McLoughlin, Jimeno’s team was able to get to a hallway near an elevator shaft, the most stable part of any building.
After the first tower fell, only three of the original five man team that entered the building survived. Sergeant John Mcloughlin was pinned but not critically injured, and Jimeno had part of a concrete wall crushing him.
When the second tower fell, Jimeno and McLoughlin were able to stay in contact and kept each other awake whilst waiting to be rescued.
After thirteen long hours they were saved by Dave Karnes, a former Marine. Jimeno recounted, “I was buried in a cocoon of concrete.”
Jimeno was first to be pulled out and taken to the hospital, where doctors began working on saving his legs, which were severely injured. Rescuers would later dig Mcloughlin out by hand. Jimeno ended his story with a single message holding the flag in his hand, “I’m proud to be part of history. Never forget, our flag is not made out of cloth but of the blood of patriots.”
The audience was greatly moved by his speech with many tears and heavy emotions filling the eyes and hearts of those sitting in the NHS auditorium.
Kirstin Criste, NHS senior, reflected on the powerful emotions brought forth from the speech, “9/11 matters to us, because it is a part of our history that can never be forgotten. It has taught us even through all of the pain and destruction, that we are Americans and that we stick together no matter what.”
Hundreds of students and community members came together to commemorate Jimeno’s service as well as the bravery of all individuals who selflessly served their country on September 11th.
Keeping the stories of American patriots alive, as well as allowing high school students to meet individuals who protect and serve the nation, the NHS History department seeks to constantly engage students in the past but also remind them that the service and sacrifice of individuals like Will Jimeno are timeless.