Marine reservist had firsthand view of 9/11 horror

Staff Sgt. David W. Karnes abruptly left his desk at his job in Connecticut and traveled to the World Trade Center to look for survivors on 9-11. His efforts paid off when he located two Port Authority police officers and helped rescue them.


By FRED ZIMMERMAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 3, 2003

WHITE BEACH NAVAL FACILITY, Okinawa — David Karnes witnessed firsthand the devastation and horror caused by the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center — not because he was in New York City and had no choice, but because something told him to go make a difference.

Karnes already had served more than 20 years in the Marine Corps and was enjoying a quiet life in Wilton, Conn. He was a senior accountant in the Deloitte & Touche accounting firm’s national headquarters.

Then his sister called, saying a plane had crashed into one of the towers.

“I suspected right off that terrorists had flown a skyjacked commercial airliner into the building,” said Karnes, a staff sergeant in the Marine Corps Reserves.

Television reports after the second plane hit the other tower confirmed his gut feeling. Hours later, Karnes reacted the only way he thought a Marine should.

He took leave from his job, stopped at a local barbershop for a high-and-tight haircut, then went home, threw on a pair of starched cammies and set out for New York at a “very aggressive speed.”

Once he reached the site, he said, he was waved on in because of his uniform. He then found another Marine, whom he knows only as Sgt. Thomas, and they decided they would search for survivors.

“I asked Thomas and the others if anyone had been in the center of the collapse area where the two towers stood,” Karnes said. “He said authorities wouldn’t let anyone near that area, so I asked him if he would take a walk over there with me.”

Karnes said the pair began walking around in the rubble while fires still smoldered. As they searched, they shouted, “United States Marines! If you can hear us, yell or tap!”

When they reached a depression in the rubble of what had been the south tower, he said, “I thought I heard someone. … So I yelled down and they replied back that they were New York Port Authority police officers. “They asked us not to leave them.”

Karnes told Thomas to get to a high point to direct rescuers to the site, then called his wife and sister on his cell phone and told them to phone and give the New York police his location.

Other rescue workers arrived within 15 minutes. Five men, including Karnes and Thomas, dug out the two Port Authority officers, William Jimeno and John McLoughlin, who’d been trapped some 20 feet below the surface.

Freeing Jimeno took three hours; McLoughlin, another nine, Karnes said.

He spent the next eight days at the site, conducting search-and- rescue operations and performing site surveys of his company’s damaged offices in nearby buildings.

When Karnes returned home, he quickly headed back to the local Reserve Center and re-enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve. Staff Sgt. Karnes now is with 1st Battalion, 25th Marines, on Okinawa as part of the Unit Deployment Program.

And now he’s hoping for some help. Several days before two Port Authority officers were to leave New York to present commemorative flags to Pacific Marines, Karnes said, they lost the funding for their airfare — so he used one of his credit cards to buy their tickets.

Karnes said he’s already “reaching out” to organizations such as the Marine Corps League in hopes he’ll get reimbursed.

But for what he did in New York City, he indicated he expects no pay. The staff sergeant said a reporter once asked him if he was a hero.

He thought briefly, then replied, “No. I’m a Marine, and I was just doing what Marines do.”