Jason Thomas: The Lost Hero of 9/11

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The Destination America network premiered a new documentary special the other night. Since 2002 or 2003 I’ve been working on a piece of writing about September 11 (I haven’t decided yet if it will be a theatre work or a book-length poem, I’m going to let the material decide.) Painful (even inconceivable) thought it may be, I’ve researched the event obsessively, from every conceivable angle. There have been warehouses full of material produced on this subject: journalism, scholarship, correspondence and lots and lots of folk art. But very little serious art. I think most artists are terrified of the risk, or find it distasteful, or think they shouldn’t be the one to attempt it. I am of the reverse opinion. This seismic tragedy happened to everyone. Factoring in the repercussions and ripples, it is without a doubt the most significant thing to happen in much of the world since World War Two. And yet people have avoided the topic — strenuously. And granted, this thing I’m working on hasn’t seen and won’t see the light of day for many years, if ever. But I’m working on it.

If you told me in late 2001, what a frivolous, contentious, paralyzed, self-hating, violent, downright USELESS and DIRECTIONLESS society America would be in 2015, I don’t know what I would have done. Something unmentionable. I just typed something and erased it, because it’s too dark. Talk about 14 wasted years. Who are we? What have we done as a nation? It’s as though those planes flew into the country’s spinal cord and severed it, creating a deranged Leviathan.

Anyway, I am digressing majorly. The point I began with is that when they show 9-11 documentaries on tv at this time of year, I don’t go “Oh, ugh, this again.” I watch them. “Why be reminded?”, people always ask. How about to stiffen your resolve to a peaceful person who helps others? More power to you if you feel you’re golden enough on a daily basis to NOT need such reminders. But I certainly do.

That said, having seen so many documentaries and television shows about the subject (and they’re all powerful — even the ones that aren’t as good, because how can they not be?), at this late stage it is rare to run into aspects of the narrative (as complex as it is) that you haven’t encountered before. 9/11: The Lost Hero (despite a fairly unpromising title) accomplished that however. That is because its subject, ex-Marine Jason Thomas, never told a soul about his major act of heroism on September 11. It turns out, after years of mystery, that he is the guy responsible for finding and rescuing Port Authority Police Officers Will Jimino and John McLoughlin from the pile. Only 16 people survived the collapse of the Twin Towers. This particular rescue was dramatized by Oliver Stone in 2006’s film World Trade Center. Unfortunately at the time the film was made, no one knew the identity of the rescuer. Jimino spoke with him at the time but he was badly injured, under rubble and surrounded by smoke. Firefighters worked with him but all was chaos and who knows whom the film people had an opportunity to interview? So the “Mysterious Marine” was played by a white actor. This particular hero was African American. People should know that.

Thomas was at his mother’s home on Long Island when the planes hit. He threw on his fatigues and ran to the scene. And here’s the wild thing — puts a chill up your spine. There is TONS of video footage of him doing just that. It’s footage most of us have seen many times. You can see the guy running toward the collapsed towers in famous video clips. But no one knew enough to put him together with this mystery rescuer. He never told anyone until the Stone movie came out and he finally cracked, as anyone would. His own story was being told with inaccuracy. He let his wife know, and that’s the only reason we know.

Another GLORIOUS element of this story (to me) is that because he was an absolutely free agent, answerable to no one but his own conscience, he got the job done. When World Trade Center 7 collapsed late in the afternoon, FDNY officials (understandably) recalled their men from the pile. For a few hours, people under that rubble were out of luck. Thomas merely said “To hell with it” and climbed the pile on his own, and found these two guys. (To their credit, firemen were breaking rules themselves that day to get the job done. On another of the specials shown by Destination America, a construction worker told an FDNY Captain: “I know where some nearby backhoes are, but they’re not mine, I’ll have to hot wire ’em”, and the Captain said, “Well, then hot wire ’em.” If he’d waited for orders or clearance or permission or whatever, vital time would have been lost).

Anyway, I found this to be an inspiring story.  The film is available to watch via Youtube here. 

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