A Will to Live, a Voice for Freedom: Will Jimena…In his own Words

Fifteen years ago, on a gorgeous autumn morning, Port Authority Police Officer Will Jimeno woke up early in his New Jersey home and almost decided to take the day off to sit in a deer stand. He talked himself out of it, choosing to save vacation days for the whitetail rut. On the job just nine months, he suited up and reported for his shift at the Midtown Manhattan Bus Terminal.

Sometime after about 8:30, standing outside with his back to the terminal, Jimeno was closely observing comings and goings of the rush when an enormous shadow made dark the sunshine over the entire scene before him. It was the foreshadowing of the sickening path taken by American Airlines Flight 11, probably flown by hijacker Mohamed Atta, into the North tower of the World Trade Center.

At the time, the Port Authority Police Department (PAPD) numbered about 1,400 officers, the beat covering 1,500 square miles comprising many and varied properties owned by the Port Authority––bridges, tunnels, airports, bus terminals, and more.

Including the World Trade Center.

It was Tuesday, September 11, 2001, and there was no way to know what had begun.  Jimeno’s radio called him back into the terminal and he jumped on a bus with 20 fellow officers, rushing to the scene.

 “The American flag is not made out of cloth; it’s made from the blood of patriots. We’re                                       strong because of that flag. We’re strong because of how we feel for this nation.”
                                                                                                                 – Will Jimeno

The 20 officers in that bus did not know that smoldering gashes in both buildings and volatile jet fuel waiting to explode from now-motionless planes had sealed the fate of thousands. That the brutal and ruthless weight of collapsing towers would take some of them and leave Jimeno and Sergeant John McLoughlin buried alive, barely alive, more than 20 feet below the surface. That after many hours, Jimeno and McLoughlin would be the only two people rescued from under the broken concrete, exposed rebar, and twisted steel.

As heroic servants do, they had all run in as others desperately tried to get out, in order to help as many people as possible.

 

The wreckage of both towers came down on Jimeno and a small group of officers, because they got caught in the worst possible location, the concourse connecting the buildings.

Jimeno lived, but like our nation, will never be the same. His badly-swollen body, strapped in a Stokes Basket, was passed by human chain to a waiting ambulance after 13 hours of an ordeal none of us will ever grasp.

“The human spirit is bigger than any evil person can break. That’s the good thing that comes out of this tragedy. If you don’t take anything good out of it, it’s just that: a tragedy.”
                                                                                                                              – Will Jimeno

In the first week, he underwent 11 surgeries. He spent more than two months in the hospital, and it was almost two years before he could walk without a cane.

Born in Colombia, he just might be the beating heart of America. We begin his story here, continue it on the podcast, and as grateful Americans, present Will Jimeno, hero and hunter, in his own words…

 

MidWest Outdoors: Most people know the part of your story that begins on Sept. 11, 2001, when you were trapped under the collapsed World Trade Center towers. But your American tale begins in a faraway land. You were born in Colombia and moved here with your parents at the age of two. Tell us about your childhood.

Will Jimeno: Yes, my dad came over a year before my mom and I. We arrived in Hackensack, New Jersey, where I grew up, 12 miles outside New York City. I went to a Catholic school from kindergarten through eighth grade, then to Hackensack High School, where I played soccer.

MWO: Tell us a bit of what you remember about growing up and getting used to living in America. What are some of your earliest memories?

Jimeno: I remember being surrounded by a lot of love. My family was very loving, and I have one sister, who’s four years younger than I am. We grew up around a close-knit community, and the thing my mom instilled in me was that, ‘we’re Colombian, and be proud of your heritage, but this is our new home, and we fly the American flag, and we need to learn English. God bless her, because to this day she has a strong accent, and she even went to college courses to try to get her English better. She told us that this country was going to offer us opportunities that we weren’t going to get back in Colombia.

I was also surrounded by a lot of faith. God is a big part of our life. I had a lot of nuns as teachers, back in the day when it was okay for you to get cracked when you were bad. If we got hit, it was because we deserved it. And when the school would call, my dad would say, ‘what did you do?’ He never said, ‘no, my kid didn’t do it.’

So I learned a lot of great lessons growing up, and my love for America just kept growing. I saw that my father worked hard, and when I was in fourth grade, we were able to buy our first home. My parents were the epitome of hard-working immigrants who loved this country, and that was instilled in me.

MWO: You could have gone to college right after high school, but chose to enlist in the Navy, right?

Jimeno: Right. After high school I could have played soccer at some colleges, but decided I wanted to serve this country. My dad had a hard time with it; he wanted me to go to college and be a doctor. But I said, ‘hey, listen Dad, the way I look at it is I want to travel the world, I’m gonna get the GI Bill, and I could pay my own way through college.’

MWO: You’re making some good points. Did he buy in?

Jimeno: Not really. He even offered me a car if I went to college, because I would have been the first one to graduate from college in our family. My dad was, by trade, a welder, and my mom a beautician, and they hoped that I would choose college.

But I went into the Navy and served on the USS Tripoli LPH-10, which stands for Landing Pad Helicopters. We carried mine sweepers and marines. Ours was the only ship that got hit during the Gulf War. I had gotten off about six months prior, before it hit a submerged mine. Nobody got hurt, but it was weird watching my ship on TV. I had left behind a couple things my friends were going to return. It was the day of boom boxes, and when we worked out, we listened to music on my boom box. On each side was a sticker of Yosemite Sam with his guns, and I actually saw it on ABC News. They showed debris in the water, and you could see this radio, bobbing up and down, and on the end of it was the sticker. I said, ‘there goes my radio.’

But the military, for me, was just awesome; I got to see 11 countries, got to see a lot of different cultures, learned how to deal with people from different parts of the world––but the thing I remember most is that, no matter where we came from, even as a 19-year-old sailor, you knew that this is the greatest country on earth. After traveling the world and seeing different things, you knew that this country offers freedoms that other countries just didn’t offer, or couldn’t afford, or, for whatever reason, just didn’t have. So that made this country even more special to me.

MWO: These days, hunting is a big part of your life. But it wasn’t as a youngster.

Jimeno: There was a lot of hunting going on, but I wasn’t exposed to it. Later, I found out there were a lot of hunters around me, but I didn’t know that at the time. A lot of it was shotgun hunting back in the day, but there was good hunting right here in New Jersey. My father-in-law, Paul Guardiano, hunted since the early ‘60s.

The first time that I even thought about hunting was during the military, because I was a gunner’s mate. We took care of all the weapons on the ship. Our chief, Bruce Barton, wanted to sell us a compound bow. I was interested, but I thought, ‘I don’t know anything about this.’ I mean, it had pulleys, and I didn’t know what anything on it was [laughs].

MWO: There’s a great story about how you got started hunting that involves a girl. Your Naval service was up, and you were back in New Jersey. Tell us about that.

Jimeno: After coming home, I was going to college, studying criminal justice, and during my college years, I got a job in loss prevention. At the time, I didn’t even know what that was. I worked for a company that sold clothing, and I had a shield and pair of handcuffs, and I walked the store in plain clothes and caught shoplifters. It was pretty cool, because my dream was to become a police officer, and that was what I was working toward. During that time, I met Allison, who would eventually become my wife. I kept asking her out, and after about seven or eight months of trying, she finally went out on a date with me. In that time period, we became really good friends.

MWO: Because you had so many conversations while you were attempting to ask her out?

Jimeno: Well, what happened was that we both ended up seeing other people, so we had to get to a point where we were single again. Our friendship became more important than anything, and then it transitioned to the next step.

On our third date, I took her shooting. I had a 9 mm Beretta pistol, and if I’m honest, it also had to do with getting my arms around her [laughs]. Show her how to shoot, right? So I put the target at 15 yards and gave her the gun. She took it, fired away, and put a helluva group in it.

MWO: So she was sandbagging you?

Jimeno: I looked at her like, ‘wow, that’s impressive.’ And she asked if I wanted to try something cool; that she was an archery shooter. I said, ‘yeah I would love to try that.’ I went with her, and her dad, and the first time she let me shoot her bow, I was hooked. It was awesome. Today she’ll tell you that she created a monster, but that started my passion for hunting, and bowhunting, especially.

MWO: We want to make sure everybody hears this, loud and clear: it was not a matter of you taking Allison on her first hunt. It was she who got you into hunting.

Jimeno: Yes, it absolutely was Allison who got me started. And this was way before any of the well-known female hunters were acting as role models. She started seriously shooting a bow with her father when she was 13. At the time, she was the only female around our area shooting a bow.

There’s a picture of her with maybe 20 or 25 guys, and all these guys were shooting in leagues. They were on a 3D course, and there was a buck target. They stuck a piece of corn near the top of the buck’s back, made it a 30-yard shot, and everybody pitched in five bucks. This is back when they were all shooting fingers, and whoever hit the corn in the middle was gonna win the money. Out of all those shooters, she’s the one that smacked it right in the middle. She has a picture of her with the money, and her dad.

Her dad was so proud of her. He told me, ‘Will, these guys could shoot a bow, and at 30 yards, she’s the one that nailed it right in the middle.’

MWO: We have to see that picture.

Jimeno: I don’t know; she doesn’t like being the center of attention.

MWO: Challenge accepted.

Jimeno: Allison wanted to spend time with her dad, she enjoyed archery shooting, and she went hunting with him on state land. She enjoyed it, no matter how cold it was, and this was in a place where you were lucky to even see a deer. They had a close bond, and when I met her, all three of us clicked, and we would go to archery shoots together, and they got me started hunting.

 

When we pick up on the podcast, Jimeno tells you more about how he got started in hunting with Allison and Paul, then goes into great detail about what happened to him and his fellow officers and citizens during the tragic events of 9/11. You’ll find it in the Podcast section at midwestoutdoors.com. On the home page, look for the button that says Podcast, click on it, and you’ll find the interview. We hope you have time to listen to some of our other episodes as well. We’ll see you there… it’s time well spent.

Will Jimeno Timeline

Born: Nov 26, 1967, in Barranquilla, Colombia.

1986: Graduates from Hackensack High School, goes into the Navy, assigned to a landing pad helicopter ship, USS Tripoli.

1987: Even though he didn’t have to, goes through formal process and becomes a United States citizen.

1990: Finishes stint in the Navy, after serving aboard USS Tripoli.

1994: Begins hunting, after help from then-girlfriend Allison, and her father, Paul Guardiano.

1995: Married to Allison Guardiano. They have two daughters, Bianca and Olivia.

Sept. 11, 2001: Working as a Port Authority Police Officer, volunteers to rush into the smoldering World Trade Center towers following Sergeant John McLoughlin. His small group is trapped when the first tower collapses. Jimeno and McLoughlin are the only two survivors among those buried under the rubble. Among nearly 3,000 casualties are 37 Port Authority officers and a K9 officer named Sirius.

2006: Oliver Stone film, World Trade Center, is released. Jimeno is portrayed by actor Michael Pena; Sergeant John McLoughlin by Nicolas Cage. Allison Jimeno is played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. The Jimenos and McLoughlins play Port Authority officers in the barbecue scene at the end of the film.

2011: On the eve of 10th anniversary of 9/11, Jimeno shoots a huge buck nicknamed The Stag, with his bow. That buck is shown on the cover.

2016: On April 7, Will’s father-in-law, Paul Guardiano, passes away. “It was a big loss for all of us,” says Will. After struggling to find the heart to hunt, Jimeno has resumed his passion.