HeroVet: David Karnes, Marine Corps and 9/11 Hero

Dave Karnes

There’s no such thing as an "ex-Marine," as they say in the Corps. And on the eve of a highly touted 9/11 movie release, one of the heroes of the film clearly epitomizes these words. David W. Karnes, a 23-year veteran of the Marine Corps is at the center of the movie ’World Trade Center,’ a recounting of his heroic action after two planes slammed into New York City’s Twin Towers on a fateful day that transformed the lives of millions. A Deloitte & Touche Senior CPA on 9/10/2001, Karnes was a Marine again on 9/11—the events spurred him to re-enlist in the Marine Corps Reserve and today, he serves in Iraq.

"I told people at my office ‘you guys may not realize it, but we’re at war right now,’" Karnes stated after news of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center. "After staying at my desk for a few hours praying and asking God what I should do, I left the office to go to the WTC site." He told his boss he might not see him for awhile.

Karnes made a couple of stops along the way. The small barbershop in Stamford, Conn., near his home, was deserted. "Give me a good Marine Corps squared-off haircut," he told the barber. When it was done, he drove home to put on his uniform. Karnes always kept two sets of Marine fatigues hanging in his closet, pressed and starched.

Next Karnes stopped by the storage facility where he kept his equipment—he’d need rappelling gear, ropes, canteens of water, his Marine Corps K-Bar knife, and a flashlight, at least. A devout Christian, he drove to church and asked the pastor and parishioners to say a prayer that God would lead him to survivors.

Finally, Karnes lowered the convertible top on his Porsche—ironically a just-purchased Porsche 911--to allow for easy searching by authorities as he flew into New York City via Connecticut and New York parkways at up to 120 miles per hour.

He arrived at the site—"the pile"—at about 5:30 PM 9/11/2001 and with his Marine uniform, gained entrance. Building 7 of the World Trade Center, a 47-story office structure adjacent to the fallen twin towers, had just dramatically collapsed. Karnes then became acquainted with a still-unidentified "Sgt. Thomas," also a Marine. It was there that they began their journey.

The sun was setting and through the opening Karnes, for the first time, saw clearly the massive destruction. "I just said ’Oh, my God, it’s totally gone.’ "With the sudden parting of the smoke, Karnes and Thomas entered the pile. "We just disappeared into the smoke—and we ran."

"United States Marines," Karnes began shouting. "If you can hear us, yell or tap!"

Over and over, Karnes shouted those words. Then he would pause and listen. Debris was shifting, as parts of the buildings were collapsing further. Fires burned. "I just had a sense, an overwhelming sense came over me that we were walking on hallowed ground, that tens of thousands of people could be trapped and dead beneath us," he said.

After an hour of searching and yelling, Karnes stopped. He heard the words "we’re over here." It was then that their extraordinary rescue efforts began, the story of how they saved the lives of Port Authority officers Will Jimeno and John McLoughlin, buried 20 feet below the rubble.

The movie is not without controversy, even for Karnes, who alleges neither the studio nor Jimeno or McLoughlin contacted him, according to The New York Post. The movie portrays Karnes as deeply religious as he and Thomas trigger a massive rescue effort headed by emergency officers Scott Strauss and Paddy McGee and paramedic Chuck Sereika.

The Post quoted ’World Trade Center’ producer Michael Shamberg as saying the filmmakers indeed did contact Karnes before production and offered him a chance to see the film.

"It was a very long, very tiring rescue, and nothing like you see in the film," said Sereika, who sat uneasily through ’World Trade Center’ at an advance screening last week in West Palm Beach, according to Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers in Florida, where he now lives. "Paramount Pictures can make any kind of movie they want, but certain people know the truth. And the truth stands by itself." One thing is indisputable, the impact on one of the movie’s key players. Returning to Connecticut a week after 9/11, Karnes re-enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve, and has been serving ever since.

Image Credit: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/this_just_in/2002/09/an_unlikely_hero.html

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