Editor’s Note: Many times we walk past giants and never see them. Such is the case with William Jimeno of New Jersey, one of only two men 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. This Mossy Oak Pro Staffer and avid deer hunter has a story to tell that we all need to hear, remember and then draw courage from what happened. (See Part 1).
While our group of first responders following Sgt. John McLoughlin at the WTC on 9/11 were about halfway between 1 WTC and 2 WTC, a huge fireball the size of my house enveloped the lobby of 2 WTC. A gigantic cloud of debris rolled toward us when the earth shook, and the world caved in. I instantly felt a pain in my back, grabbed a radio and started screaming, “813 - Jimeno and team down. We’re getting bombarded with concrete.” Then something hit my hand and knocked the radio out of it. I grabbed my helmet to protect my head, but a sudden force so strong that it broke my chin strap blew the helmet off my head. Then everything seemed to stop. There was dead silence. I was in a dark place. I saw a little bit of light through a lot of dust, and 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!” And then, “You do not leave us.” 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. Sgt. McLoughlin told Dominick, “By now dark’s fallen, and if you do work your way out, you’ll never be able to locate us again. We don’t know how much of the tower is left, and you don’t know that if you do get out, you may be hit with more debris before you get help.”
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.