Will Jimeno spoke to student veterans and guests on Friday night about his experiences as a police officer on the ground in the immediate aftermath of the 2001 terror attack on the World Trade Center.
Jimeno was invited to deliver the keynote address the University of Mississippi’s first annual Veterans Alumni Gala on Friday night at The Inn at Ole Miss, which offered an opportunity to connect current student veterans with successful alumni.
Jimeno, a former member of the U.S. Navy, retired police officer and survivor of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, was one of many Port Authority police officers who were called to respond to the attacks.
Jimeno recounted the events of the day with detail and said he remembered “that Tuesday morning like it was yesterday.”
“I got up in the morning. I got dressed for work. I kissed my wife and her pregnant belly, and I kissed my four-year-old daughter Olivia,” Jimeno said. “Then I skipped down the stairs to an old Ford Bronco.”
He said that morning began just as slowly as any other.
Jimeno was dispatched to a corner near the World Trade Center, and said the 8 a.m. rush of New York City citizens was like clockwork after his near nine months on the job. It wasn’t until he was called back to the station by an emergency code, loaded onto a bus with fellow officers and unloaded at the wreckage that he began to understand the gravity of the situation.
“I just remember thinking to myself, ‘I can’t believe what I’m looking at,”’ Jimeno said of the moment he first saw the North tower engulfed in smoke and flames.
“What I am thinking is, ‘This is the United States of America, this can’t be happening. This is the greatest country on earth, but here we are standing in front of these two humongous buildings minutes from collapsing,”’ he said.
Jimeno said as first responders moved throughout the tower and down into the basement, the building began to collapse on top of them, leaving Jimeno and two of his fellow officers trapped. There, 30 feet underneath the rubble of one of New York City’s tallest buildings, Jimeno and a few fellow officers remained trapped for 13 hours before being rescued.
He now uses his experience to encourage children, students, police officers and veterans throughout the country.
In attendance at Friday’s Gala were U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, U.S. Rep. Trent Kelly, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, Adjutant General of Mississippi Janson D. Boyles, the Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs Randy Reeves, state Rep. Jay Hughes and U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie.
Wicker said as an ROTC graduate from Ole Miss, this event and what it celebrates are very near and dear to him.
“When I walked up the stairs of Guyton and applied for Air Force ROTC, I didn’t imagine that I would someday retire as a Lieutenant Colonel, or that my time in the Air Force would have such an impact on me as it is having on young men and women at Ole Miss today,” Wicker said.
The Veterans Alumni gala celebrated the steps that the Student Veterans Association is taking to improve the lives of student veterans at Ole Miss.
“The Student Veterans Association is an invaluable part of our Ole Miss community, and it provides our veterans support, resources and a venue to find and build comradery,” Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said.