Thursday, August 17, 2006
'Missing' Marine from 9/11 comes forward
On the night of September 11th, 2001, I stood near the site of the devastated World Trade Center complex, doing live reports on CNN.

One of my most vivid memories is watching police, firefighters, and private citizens desperately searching for possible survivors amid the fiery and smoky rubble. I marveled at their selfless courage. The wreckage that still stood and the rubble that was strewn precariously around the scene could have collapsed at any time.

Their goal was to find survivors. We all presumed many people were trapped under the wreckage, but when the rescue effort was over, only 20 people were pulled out alive.

The new Oliver Stone movie, "World Trade Center," tells the story of two Port Authority police officers -- Sgt. John McLoughlin and Officer Will Jimeno -- who were found by two former U.S. Marines working as volunteers. But the moviemakers only knew the whereabouts of one of the Marines; the other had seemingly vanished.

But now we know about that other one.

About three weeks ago, retired Marine Sgt. Jason Thomas was watching TV and saw a commercial for "World Trade Center." In the commercial, he saw two Marines rescuing two police officers at Ground Zero and realized one of those Marines was actually him!

For almost five years, Sgt. Thomas had decided to keep a very low profile about his heroic role that terrible day; partly because of modesty, and partly because of the emotional toll it took on him. But after family members saw the commercial, they told Sgt. Thomas he should get in touch with the movie producers. So he did. And now, we have gotten in touch with him.

Yesterday, Sgt. Thomas told me the tale of what he did on September 11 -- how he met up with another retired Marine, Sgt. David Karnes, and together they moved along the rubble looking for survivors. They yelled "U.S. Marines, anyone down there?" continuously, but got no responses.

Finally, after night fell, they heard a soft voice coming from the two police officers trapped below them. The two Marines promised both men they would be rescued, and they were. They were seriously injured, but are recovering well.

I saw the movie and believe it was exceptionally well done and, for the most part, realistic. But something very interesting happened in the casting. Because the moviemakers (and most everyone else) didn't know much about the "missing" Marine, the actor playing him is a white man. In real life, Sgt. Thomas is African-American.

Sgt. Thomas says has no hard feelings about the racial mix-up. He realizes he received little acclaim because of his decision to stay quiet, but that's what he wanted to do.

And here is something else noteworthy -- Sgt. Thomas has not seen the movie and doesn't plan to. While he hears it's a very inspirational motion picture, he says the day of September 11, 2001, was too emotional for him, and he doesn't think he's ready to see it played back on the big screen.
Posted By Gary Tuchman, CNN Correspondent: 12:04 PM ET
  41 Comments
Gary - this is a great story and I am very glad you blogged about it. We need more positive stories and even if Sgt. Thomas doesn't think he's our hero - he is.
Posted By Anonymous Nicki, Calgary, Alberta : 12:18 PM ET
Thank you for this story Gary.

Sgt. Thomas is an amazing human being, a real hero.

I don't think I'll ever be ready to see the film. For that reason, I am going to see it this weekend.
Posted By Anonymous Lily, Vancouver, BC : 12:28 PM ET
Hats off and a nod of thanks and respect to Sgt. Thomas and all Americans who step forward in time of great need; without thoughts of self-promotion; nor thoughts of the personal risk to their own lives; but thoughts only to get the job done and help those that truly need it.
Posted By Anonymous Mike Roberts, Madison, WI : 12:29 PM ET
Gary: Wow..what a story! I'm glad that Sgt. Thomas finally got the nerve to let the world know who he is and what he did that day to save those two police officers. I don't think I need to watch the movie to be inspired...reading your blog entry has done that!
Posted By Anonymous Jolene, St. Joseph, MI : 12:32 PM ET
Thanks Gary,
Heroes come in many shapes and forms. Those who do deeds and take the credit for credit, those who help and say yes, I did but I don't deserve thanks. Then there are those like Sgt Thomas who did what they felt was right, silently slip away and take know credit. But in their hearts know they did something good and are happy to leave it at that.
Posted By Anonymous Marcia, Warren Mi : 12:38 PM ET
I have seen the movie, it has brought back awful memories (and I only saw them on tv). Sgt. Thomas was first a compassionate human being just like all the other volunteers who took chances trying to rescue so, does it matter which colour he was ? No, he's an honorable and modest man, thats what counts. A heroe is only recognized and remembered by his actions.
Posted By Anonymous Manon, Longueuil, Quebec : 12:48 PM ET
Hi Gary,
As in so many disasters and tragedies, faceless and nameless people become heroes. We all may never know that strangers name who helped us but felt their help very much. And I hope they know it was appreciated by those they aided..Take Care
Posted By Anonymous Lorie Ann, Buellton,Calif : 12:54 PM ET
This is a neat story. Imagine how many others are sitting as "quiet heros" after 9/11. I have to agree with Sgt. Thomas about not being ready to see a movie about 9/11. Everytime I see a commercial or a picture of that day I get a sick feeling in my stomach. I feel like I'm reminded of 9/11 everyday whether it's on TV, in the newspaper, or on a clock. I've seen those towers fall too many times and after each time I hope I never have to see it happen again, but I know that isn't possible. I can't imagine losing a family member that day and having to deal with all of this hoi-poli over a motion picture. I think this topic is something that Hollywood should have stayed away from.
Posted By Anonymous Ted, Malvern PA : 12:56 PM ET
I'm with Sgt Thomas, I will not be seeing this movie. Maybe some time in the future but I think it's far too soon after something so devastating to so many to even think about making this movie.
Posted By Anonymous Em, Toronto, Ontario, Canada : 1:29 PM ET
I salute Sgt. Thomas for his bravery and every other hero who risked their lives to save others. Living in Minnesota after 9/11, even though we were far away from the tragedies, we were still very much affected. It seemed everyone knew someone who knew someone who was either killed or injured. But what I remember most, was the overwhelming patriotic feeling throughout our community. U.S. flags drapped almost every home. Before an opera performance, we stood and sang our national anthem. Today we seem to have lost that unity. The flags have been put away and bitter political fighting has put Congress in a gridlock. Our country is more divided than ever. Hopefully this new movie and the upcoming anniversary of 9/11 will remind us that we really are one nation and our biggest enemy is al Qaeda, not ourselves.
Posted By Anonymous Cathy, Minneapolis, Minnesota : 1:33 PM ET
I seem to be the minority when I believe that the film "9/11" is timed rather appropriately. Our nation has once again lost its unity in the face of tremendous adversity, despite the overwhelming need for all Americans to stand together, indivisible with liberty and justice for all. We must remember that, until the cruel and heartless monsters who attacked our nation are brought to justice, there will be no "justice for all."
Posted By Anonymous Virginia, Lubbock, TX : 1:55 PM ET
Wow I can't even imagine what his reaction must have been when he saw the commercial. I have such a respect for him for keeping a low profile even as he has become a hero.
Posted By Anonymous Kimberly, New York NY : 1:55 PM ET
I read alot of 360 blog and this, by far, is one of the best stories... With all that is happening today, we need a feel good, true-to-life, taniglble hero... Yes, there were many many heros that horrific day and they all should be commended... But this quiet hero is a superb example and reminder of the good that still remains in America... Thank you Sgt. Thomas and thank you Gary for presenting this story so eloquently... My hats off to you both!
Posted By Anonymous Sherry Sarasota, Fl : 2:01 PM ET
As the PROUD daughter of a GREAT Marine and Vietnam Veteran, two words quickly came to mind when I heard of Sgt. Thomas' courage........."Semper Fidelis", simply translated "Always Faithful". The USMC adopted this motto in 1883 to convey "for Corps and Country and to their fellow fighting men and women, for the rest of their days and beyond." Sgt. Thomas exemplifies the motto with grace and dignity.
Posted By Anonymous Michelle, Bay St. Louis, MS : 2:05 PM ET
Here, here, what a true hero.
Posted By Anonymous A. Merkel, Weilbach, Germany : 2:30 PM ET
My nephew, a two-Iraq tour Captain in the Marines, told me there are no blacks or whites or browns in the Corps, only "shades of green." Sounds like Sgt. Thomas thinks that way, too.
Posted By Anonymous Jeremy, Sequim, WA : 2:30 PM ET
I knew two people who perished in the WTC who worked for the AON Corporation.

Mr. Thomas...you represent what I believe to be the core of this country. I respect your desire to remain silent but at the end of the day....it is just what we all need to know...that no matter what...we all stand together and help each other. GOD as your partner...watched your back and thru that power you had the back of your brothers. GOD will always bless you and I will always pray for you.

You are a hero.
Posted By Anonymous TM, Las Vegas, Nevada : 2:32 PM ET
I have four words to say .... Thank you, Sgt. Thomas.
Posted By Anonymous Dana, Charlotte, NC : 2:34 PM ET
Black and White
Am I to understand that whoever did the casting for the film didn't bother to ask the other Marine or the survivors the simple question "what did the missing marine look like" before casting?
Posted By Anonymous Jason, Bowling Green, KY : 2:38 PM ET
Why does color always have to be an issue? St. Thomas is a true American hero, period.
Posted By Anonymous Don Martin, Uruacu,Goias, Brazil : 2:55 PM ET
I have seen the movie and would like to take my hat off to both Marines and every participant for their sacrifice. The only reservation is if the movie maker new one of the two Marine he could have attained some facts about the other. I think it would have been nice to depict the sacrifice of the black heroes as well.
Posted By Anonymous Alex, Bowie, MD : 3:02 PM ET
Sgt. David Karnes, the other marine did not know the Marine he was with was African-American? Either way, bless both of them for what they did.
Posted By Anonymous Megan White, Grand Rapids, MI : 3:06 PM ET
A great hero. When I read the quote this mornign and saw the picture; i said ohhh he's black. I care less about black and white issue, but I felt bad due to the racial mixed up. I think he should be credited accordingly. All in all we all suffered on that day and thank God for the two great American heros (Marines--black and white) who helped save lives.

God bless America
Posted By Anonymous Angela, Washington, DC : 3:12 PM ET
I too salute Sgt. Thomas.
I wish I could shake his hand.
Posted By Anonymous Ron, Eugene Oregon : 3:31 PM ET
I respect Sgt. Thomas' decision to not see the latest movie about 9/11. His heroic actions to save the lives of his fellow human beings that day speak for volumes for his character. However, I gently caution those who say it is too soon to depict such events on screen. I believe I will see the movie, not because I want to relive the horror I experienced watching the buildings come down while I sat in front of a TV in my Federal office building, but rather to make sure that I do not forget.
Posted By Anonymous Marge, Baltimore MD : 3:31 PM ET
America's graditude goes out to Sgt. Thomas and to the many other unknown civilians that devoted their time and lives to assist during the 9/11 tragedy. Sgt. Thomas may you be blessed from the heavens for your heroism!
I have not seen the movie 9/11, and have no plans to do so. It would be rather difficult for me to view the suffering of so many innocent lives. But I would like to inquire if any of the proceeds from this movie will be going to those families that lost love ones in the 9/11 tragedy? I would be rather disappointed if Hollywood profited from this tragedy without considering those families affected by the tragedy and giving back.
America's civil officers (police and fire) were heroic during and after the events of 9/11. However, there were many civilians (particularly those that worked in the Towers) that demonstrated acts of heroism as well, just as Sgt. Thomas. Let's not forget, that on 9/11 everyone within the Towers were heros!
Posted By Anonymous M. Leon, New Castle, DE : 3:35 PM ET
Nice discovery Gary. We'll add Sgt Thomas to the list of 70,000 volunteers who served at Ground Zero. About 350 of us are getting together in Manhattan on the evening of September 9th to commemorate the 5th anniversary of the attack on America.
Posted By Anonymous Lou Angeli, Wilmington, DE : 3:37 PM ET
Sergeant Thomas and Sergeant Kearns are true "heroes". For most of the American populace, their actions would seem totally selfless. But to the thousands and thousands of Marines, both active and retired, their actions are what make up the heart and soul of "The Corp". Semper Fi.
Posted By Anonymous Paul, Stuart, FL : 3:55 PM ET
A real Marine if there ever was one.

Semper Fi.... Sgt
Posted By Anonymous BW - Annapolis, MD : 4:37 PM ET
I think Sgt Thomas is a great American hero and I don�t care if that sounds corny. For a man to bravely risk his life to save that of another and not seek personal or world acclaim, speaks volumes about his courage and compassion of for others. I think we understand why he would choose not to see the movie and respect his reason for doing so. I commend him for his efforts that day and as a fellow military warrior, I say thank you!
Posted By Anonymous Patrick Belvin, Fairfield CA : 4:47 PM ET
I saw the movie and found it very powerful and moving. I also lost a friend in the towers, Michael Richards. I don't know if or how much Sgt. David Karnes was involved with giving details to the folks involved with making the movie. But I wonder how a detail as important as race never came up when the people in Casting were discussing details. I would think Sgt. David Karnes would have remembered such a detail about Marine Sgt. Jason Thomas.
Posted By Anonymous Steve, San Francisco, CA. : 4:47 PM ET
Black or white, a human being is a human being. Yes, Sgt. Thomas & Karnes are heroes. They represent all the other heroes who rose up to help the others. In the face of tragedy, we are humans, period. No colors, no nationalities, just human beings.

I understand why he is not ready to watch the movie. He must have is own movie replaying in his head.

I don't think I will watch the film for now. I will wait when I can buy it and watch it alone, at my own pace. I still remember how I felt watching the images, just a bystander. Imagine those who lost someone....

Joanne Ranzell
Laval Quebec
Posted By Anonymous Joanne Ranzell Laval Quebec : 4:49 PM ET
My husband and I saw the movie this past weekend. My husband is a retired fire dept captain with a local fire dept for thirty years. He went to the movie because I wanted to see it. I left the theater in tears and he left angry....not at Hollywood, but at what happened that day. We should never forget. There were many heroes that day and they have all found their places in our hearts. We salute you now and always.
Laura Keefner
Gt Barrington, MA
Posted By Anonymous Great Barrington, MA : 5:06 PM ET
We need a lot more people with the bravery to walk into danger on the behalf of others. I don't plan to see the movie, although I am sure it is very good. I watched, on a very graainy TV in the teacher's lounge, when the towers came down. Then I saw the dazed looks of my students the next day after they had sen the images at home. I see the horror on the faces of the people that were there, and then I remember the pain, disbelief and question of safety on the faces of 1500 or so teens, whose tenuous world was also rocked that day.
Posted By Anonymous Lisa, Crystal Lake, IL : 7:46 PM ET
Sgt. Thomas is a true American hero, this story really touched me. It would have been nice to have him portrayed in the movie by a black man, we have such little heroes in the African American community to look up to, but he is a good American & Marine.
Posted By Anonymous Deborah G, Carlsbad CA : 8:04 PM ET
There are so many emotions that stir when I think of 9/11. But this story about Sgt. Thomas is one of those stories that will sit with me forever, just like all the horror of that day. It's hard to remember that are heroic stories "written" that day, when there are so many which are tragic. I have no plans on seeing World Trade Center nor did I see Flight 93. I don't need to be reminded in vivid Hollywood detail, no matter how tasteful it might be, the events of that day. My heartfelt thanks to Sgt. Thomas for being a silent hero, which is what a true hero should be: modest.
Posted By Anonymous Tracy: Somerville, NJ : 8:12 PM ET
God bless men like ret Sgt. Jason Thomas, USMC.
Posted By Anonymous Steve, Vacaville CA : 9:33 PM ET
First and foremost, I can feel the tears welling in my eyes as I think of the selfless bravery of Sgts. Thomas and Kearns. Their acts were not inspired simply because they are members of one of the most noble and patriotic military arms of all time, they were inspired because they are AMERICANS. They are colored; red, white, and blue. I just finished reading a story about other selfless Americans, it is titled 1776. Heroism in the face of great adversity is a decidely American character trait. We all have it. Sometimes, as we go about our daily lives with overstocked grocery stores and car dealers on every corner, we need to be reminded that we do. On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was a police officer, on-duty, in a California town. Later that same day, I stopped a speeder on the Interstate who was driving a friends car home from Seattle to Los Angeles to be with her kids. The friend who's car she had borrowed perished at the World Trade Center. We stood on the side of that freeway and held hands for 20, yes 20, minutes; tears streaming down our faces. I'm still a police officer in that town, a sergeant now, but my point is that there is no hand holding now, no crying for our loss. Another typically American character trait is to forget with time. It's been five years. The media now makes airport delays a menace rather than the safety precaution they are. We cannot forget!!! Our attackers are patient people. They have been warring against the American way of life for decades, and civilized society for hundreds of years. They are waiting for America to become complacent again. They are waiting for Americans to let down their guard, stop trusting their public safety professionals, lose sight of the long term goal of the "War on terror." America, please don't let this happen. Every day, be a Sgt. Jason Thomas. I want my little girl to grow up in the greatest, freest, nation ever to grace the surface of God's creation. Thank you.
Posted By Anonymous Steve, Williams CA : 10:01 PM ET
I am so glad that Sgt. Thomas has come forward and that we, as Americans, can thank him for his selfless act in searching for a miracle and finding two.
As for asking the others involved what Sgt. Thomas looked like...from what I've heard...everyone was caked with concrete dust at Ground Zero and the only color was grey.
I don't know if that could be the explanation or maybe everyone just saw a hero and color didn't matter.
Posted By Anonymous Susan, Murray, KY : 1:00 PM ET
Cheers to him, there are plenty of people like him in this wonderful nation. Sadly you don't get to meet them until they have to step up. Good work Marines. From a fella in LE, you did a great job. God bless
Posted By Anonymous Ryan, Boston MA : 9:14 AM ET
Truly I would like to express my sincerest thanks to Sgt Thomas and Sgt Kearns. I am a Police Officer also and sometimes we need to be saved too.
Sgt Thomas and Sgt Kearns thank you so much for not leaving and all of your help. Truly all you blessing will come from the lord not movie producers.
Posted By Anonymous Renee Bunion, Philadelphia, PA : 10:10 AM ET
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