Growing up, Jason Thomas recalls his mother always telling him, his nine brothers and six sisters, “You are your brothers’ keeper. Never leave your brother behind.” When Thomas joined the U.S. Marine Corps, the sergeant learned, “Never leave your brother on the battlefield.”
So when Thomas learned of the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, he didn’t think twice about putting on his uniform and going to the wreckage to help.
“I got lost for 15 minutes driving into the city. That baffled me because I knew how to get there. I wanted to get there sooner,” Thomas told EBONY.com. “God played a part. Had I arrived 15 minutes earlier, I would have been in the second tower when it collapsed.”
Thomas’ timing was still perfect. He is the man who heard the muffled sounds belonging to two trapped police officers, Will Jimeno and Sgt. John McLoughlin, and is responsible for rescuing them, the last two survivors.
“I give credit to the military and my mom. It was like second nature to help,” said Thomas, 37. “A firefighter told me to come off the rubble and go back. I told him, ‘Marines, we don’t go backward, we always go forward.’”
Thomas never revealed his identity though he returned to work at Ground Zero for two-and-a-half more weeks following the rescue. Jimeno and McLoughlin’s story became the subject of the 2006 film World Trade Center where Thomas was mistakenly portrayed by white actor William Mapother, Tom Cruise’s cousin. His true identity wasn’t learned until after the film’s release when Thomas’ aunt encouraged him to come forward.
“The message of the movie is much bigger than Black or White. It was a minor thing compared to the movie’s message of hope and courage,” said Thomas, who still hasn’t seen the film because, “I was there. I lived it.”
Now an officer in Ohio’s Supreme Court, the married father of five established Heroes Helping Humanity in 2007. The non-profit organization has a mission of improving the standard of living and quality of life for servicemen and women, veterans of the U.S. armed services and scholarships to economically-challenged students.
This year, in memory of the nearly 3,000 Americans lost in the terrorist attack, Thomas is having the second annual Heroes Helping Humanity Ceremony and 1 Mile Walk at the Huntington Park in Columbus, OH. A portion of the proceeds will go to the American Red Cross. The other to help disadvantaged students.
“I wasn’t an A student growing up. I was that C and D student,” said Thomas. “I played every sport, was in several after-school programs and worked my entire time in high school. That’s where I fell short. I want to help others who are falling.”
Reflecting on the 10th anniversary of that tragic day, Thomas said, “For the last several months I’ve been thinking about the people who lost their lives and the heroes who sacrificed theirself to help rescue. By the time 9/11 rolls around, I’ll already be drained. I want to do more and to keep their memories alive. I don’t see myself as a hero. I just see myself as someone who wanted to give back.”
For more info. visit www.heroeshelpinghumanity.org.
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Senior Editor, EBONY Magazine