Tags: Marine | Hero | 9/11 | Finally | Tells | His | Story

Marine Hero of 9/11 Finally Tells His Story

Friday, 08 September 2006 12:00 AM

NEW YORK -- On Sept. 11, 2001, a U.S. Marine appeared at the World Trade Center, helped rescue two police officers buried in the rubble, and then disappeared - leaving authorities to wonder for years about his identity.

Then Oliver Stone included the mysterious Marine, known only as "Sgt. Thomas," as a character in his movie, World Trade Center.

And when former Sgt. Jason Thomas saw an ad for the film showing the character's heroics, he came forward and said, "That's me!"

But in the movie, Thomas is played by William Mapother, a white actor who happens to also be Tom Cruise's cousin.

Thomas is black.

Thomas' remarkable story began to unfold on the morning of 9/11, when Thomas - who had been out of the Marine Corps for about a year and was attending the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City - dropped off his daughter at his mother's home on Long Island.

She told him planes had struck both towers. He retrieved his Marine uniform from his truck and sped to Manhattan.

"When I got there I saw the second tower collapse," he recalled in an interview with MSNBC's Rita Cosby.

"It was devastating to see . . . this one building collapse, and it meant so much to America. It meant so much to New York. And you think of how many lives were lost. That's the first thing I thought of."

Thomas bumped into another ex-Marine, Staff Sgt. David Karnes, and the two began to search for survivors in the smoldering rubble.

Armed with just flashlights and an infantryman's shovel, they climbed the mountain of debris amid shards of scalding-hot metal, calling out for survivors. It was dark before they heard a response coming from a deep pit.

"I said, ‘I think I hear a voice,'" Thomas recalled. "We both called down in the hole. And we heard a voice. At that stage I really didn't recognize what was being said. But all I knew was that we got someone. We got a person down here that needs our help."

The two crawled into the pit and found two Port Authority police officers, Will Jimeno and John McLoughlin, under 20 feet of debris. It took many hours, but both were eventually freed.

Thomas said he returned to Ground Zero every day for more than two weeks to help out, then left - and tried to forget.

"I didn't want to relive what took place that day," he said.

Asked why he didn't come forward sooner, Thomas - who's now living in Ohio - told Cosby: "I didn't think it was something I should bring out. I was doing a job. I was doing my job as a Marine. You know, I kicked in that Marine mentality. I was fresh out of the military. I had all this training. And my whole thing was I wanted to help. And once I did, I felt mission accomplished; that's it. Let me go back to my life."

Thomas didn't realize a movie was being made that depicted his heroics until he saw the image of two Marines peering into a hole at Ground Zero in an ad for Stone's film.

When he spoke to producers, they offered to fly him to the premiere of the movie, but he declined, saying it was "too soon" for him to see the film.

Producer Michael Shamberg apologized to Thomas for the racial inaccuracy in the film, saying the filmmakers realized the mistake only after production had already begun.

When asked by Cosby how he felt about somebody "dramatically different" playing him in the movie, Thomas replied: "That did not bother me at all."

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NEW YORK -- On Sept. 11, 2001, a U.S. Marine appeared at the World Trade Center, helped rescue two police officers buried in the rubble, and then disappeared - leaving authorities to wonder for years about his identity. Then Oliver Stone included the mysterious Marine,...
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Friday, 08 September 2006 12:00 AM
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