17 YEARS LATER
: Survivor's story remains relevant every day

South Side third-grader Amgav Abdulla asks Will Jimeno a question with the help of teacher Kristina Meyer.
By: 
STEVE ROGERS
Staff Writer


Faith, hope and love.

Three simple words with a powerful message, even for third-graders.


And one day they may fully grasp the remarkable story behind those words and how they not only helped save Will Jimeno's life but also transformed it.


Monday, third-graders at South Side Elementary in West Point heard them from the man himself.


Jimeno was a Port Authority police officer 17 years ago today when terrorists attacked New York and Washington D.C. He and four fellow officers entered the burning World Trade Towers to rescue others.
 Before they could, first one tower and then the second collapsed.

Three of the five didn't make it.


Jimeno, who was 32 at the time, and his sergeant were among the last of 20 people dug out of the rubble alive.


Mario Bello played his character in Oliver Stone's movie, "World Trade Center."


For an hour Monday, talking via video conferencing with a cafeteria full of students, Jimeno told his story.

It's been 17 years, but he hasn't lost the emotion, still feels the pain, and gives a message that is just as intense.


"We all have our own World Trade Towers, our own challenges, even if it is just taking a test. You keep faith, hope and love, you will be okay. There is a lot of darkness out there, but there still is a lot of light," he told the students.


Jimeno does video conferencing with students around the country.

He also speaks to community groups.
His ties to West Point are special.

As he lay trapped, severely injured and on the cusp of giving up, he kept talking to his sergeant about "happy" thoughts and things they wanted to do when they got out.


Among those hopes for Jimeno was to go hunting. After his rescue and during his two months of treatment and recovery, he struck up a bond with Mossy Oak founder Toxey Haas.

He and Mossy Oak have been linked since, including hunts and appearances on Mossy Oak programs.
Monday's chat was arranged by Mossy Oak's Jake Meyer, whose wife Kristina teaches third grade at South Side.


"At that point, I wanted to give up, I wanted to die. I made my peace with God and I was ready. Then I had a vision of a man coming toward me in a glowing white robe carrying a bottle of water," he described after recounting his unquenchable thirst from the dust he'd swallowed and inhaled.
"But, I decided not to give up, not to give up on my country, not to give up on my family, not to give up on myself ... it was really, really bad, but it helped me survive," he continued after telling the students of his friend's last words.


He was trapped for more than eight hours.

Two Marines helping search the dust and smoke and rubble heard his cries and noises.

They stood over a small hole while others went to get rescue workers. They dug him out and then 14 hours later were able to free his sergeant.


"Those men put their lives on the line for me, out there in the dark searching in the danger."


He said his faith, hope and love for his family kept him going. He recalled how he saw it in hundreds of people fleeing the burning towers that day, helping each other, helping total strangers, and believing they would get out.


"Faith and hope are very important. I saw a lot of love that day."


He delighted the students by putting his left leg up in front of his computer monitor to show off the hole he still has in his leg.

The delight turned to a variety of groans, yelps and nervous laughs when he put his finger in the hole.


"It's a place to store my quarters," he joked, referring to having coins readily available when riding subways or paying tolls in New Jersey where he still lives with his wife, Allison, oldest daughter, Bianca, and youngest daughter, Olivia, who was born two months after the attack.


"It was a happy moment to be home on my porch," he said of his homecoming after two months of treatment.
"But it also was a sad moment. I had guilt, why was I alive and so many of my friends not?" he continued of the emotion that besets so many following tragedies, accidents, and even war.


"It's very difficult to be normal," he continued, admitting he cried because he felt at times like he failed his fellow police and the victims they couldn't save.


"Sometimes things happen ... the important part of it is to move forward," he stated, pointing out the brace he must use to walk.

"I don't let that stop me. It (the brace) is a reminder I overcame something bad in my life."


One student asked him why the terrorists "hated us."


It provided an opportunity for Jimeno and even the teachers to offer a life-long teaching moment.


"Hate is a strong word, they hate because of our freedoms, they hate because women here have a voice, they hate because different people can come together, that we love each other...we are a symbol that shows the world," he shared.
 "Think about that if you are being mean to someone. Instead, be nice to your classmates, be nice to your friends. Try not to hurt anyone," he said, citing a quote attributed to English philosopher Edmund Burke, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."


While listening to him, the students were able to touch and hold stones and a piece of metal in the shape of a cross from the World Trade Towers. He held up a similar piece of metal, a piece of U.S. history, he advised them.


"Always be good, don't hate. I'd rather make someone smile than cry. Each and everyone of you is special. Show a lot of love," he concluded.


Before sending the students back to their classrooms, South Side Principal Casey Glusencamp seized the moment.
"Think of something nice you can do for someone today, something every day," she told the students.

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