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.