KEVIN TATE: Hunting crucial in 9/11 hero’s path to survival

Kevin Tate

Kevin Tate

Will Jimeno looked up into the broken rubble that had been a skyscraper moments before. Pinned beneath tons of concrete and steel too numerous to count, he thought of his wife and unborn child, thought of the people he’d tried to save, thought that was how it would end. But it didn’t, and memories of time spent on a deer stand helped save him.

On Sept. 11, 2001, in the hours after the north and south towers of the World Trade Center fell, Jimeno, a rookie cop at the time, and veteran Sgt. John McLoughlin lay buried and pinned. Both officers of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department, they and scores of their fellows had been called to the scene in response to the terrorist attacks that had set the morning in motion.

Their selfless charge into the mayhem to help evacuate the towers ended almost before it began. Of the 2,600 who died at the scene in New York that day, hundreds were emergency responders like them, including 37 from their own department.

Trapped where they were when the towers fell, pinned by wreckage and wracked by pain, Jimeno and McLoughlin kept each other’s spirits up as best they could. They shared hopes and dreams for the future, favorite memories from the past, talked as they could to hold hopelessness at bay, imagined themselves somewhere else, anywhere other than there. Part of what saw them through was Jimeno’s time as a hunter.

A native of Colombia, Jimeno’s family immigrated to this nation when he was a child. His father worked as a welder, his mother as a beautician. Together they learned English and they took our flag for their own. He’d become a bowhunter after being introduced to the pursuit by Allison Guardiano, a lady he met in 1993 and married a short time later. He trained to be a police officer so he could give something back to the country that had offered him freedoms he’d never dreamed existed, a job he’d been doing for less than two years when the planes hit the towers.

“When I felt like I couldn’t make it, when I thought I couldn’t be there any longer and wanted to just give up and die, I thought back to the all-day sits I would make on the public land I bowhunted,” Jimeno said. He was the guest speaker at Saturday’s Legends of the Outdoors Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Nashville. “There was no way I could get myself loose, and I was too injured to go anywhere if I did, but I knew I wasn’t meant to die that day. I knew what I needed was patience. I thought back to the times I’d sat on the deer stand from dawn until dusk. A lot of the places I was able to hunt, the slightest glimpse you’d get of a deer in all of a day’s hours was a victory. Even thinking you’d seen a deer was a good day there. So I decided while I was trapped on 9/11 to imagine I was bowhunting. I’d always been optimistic, too, and I’d tell myself on the stand, ‘Just be patient and still and eventually, eventually you’ll see a deer.’ I decided I had to hold the same hope that someone would eventually come to rescue us.”

After 13 hours under the rubble, someone eventually did. They were found.

“I didn’t want to give up that day because I knew if I did, the bad guys would win,” Jimeno said. “They didn’t win. When I look at the flag now and see the red stripes, I think of the blood of patriots that has been spilled to keep us free. Some patriots were soldiers in uniform who fought in wars, and some were patriots in civilian clothes who did what they could when they were needed. Some did what they could by simply refusing to give up. That’s a freedom we should all appreciate, whenever we walk without fear, or when we hold our children, or when we enjoy the peace of the woods, maybe just by sitting on a deer stand, bowhunting.”

Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.