Dave Karnes is a marine that went above and beyond the call of duty in making sure he did everything in his power to help anyone during the events of Sept 11, 2001. There were only 12 survivors after the towers collapsed, despite the relentless rescue efforts. Two of the last three rescued were not rescued by firefighters or police on site, but instead, they were rescued by Karnes.
Karnes wasn’t even in New York during the attack. He was in Wilton, Connecticut working as a senior accountant with Deloitte Touche. After the second plane hit the towers, he told his work colleagues, “We’re at war.” Karnes, who had spent 23 years in the Marine Corps Infantry, felt it was his duty to help, so he told his boss that he might not see him for a while.
Before making the two hour trip to New York, Karnes stopped at a local barber shop and told the barber “Give me a good Marine Corps squared-off haircut.” He then went home to picked up his Marine fatigues out of his closet, already pressed and starched.
He made one more stop at his storage locker to get the necessary gear to assist in the rescue efforts. He grabbed his rappelling gear, ropes, canteens of water, his Marine Corps K-Bar knife, and a flashlight.
Finally, Karnes got into his 911 Porsche with the top down. His reasoning, he claimed, was that if they could see he was a Marine, he could zip past the checkpoints. Speeding towards Manhatten at speeds that exceeded 120 mph, he arrived at the checkpoints and his plan worked. With the top off, the cops could see his pressed fatigues, his neatly cropped hair, and his gear up front. He was allowed past all the checkpoints and arrived at the site—”the pile”—at about 5:30.
The 47-stories of the World Trade Center Building 7 had just collapsed and rescue workers were being pulled off the site as it was determined to be unstable and no longer safe for search and rescue. Flames were bursting from a number of buildings, and the whole site was considered dangerous. That didn’t stop Karnes. He immediately entered the area and noticed another Marine dressed in camouflage. Karnes said all he knew was that his name was Sgt. Thomas. He never got a first name, and the fellow marine never came forward after the events.
Both of the Marines stayed away from the rescuers getting people off the unstable pile and continued to search through the rubble for any sign of life. Dense dark smoke blanketed the site.
The two courageously began searching through the debris. “United States Marines,” Karnes began shouting. “If you can hear us, yell or tap!” Fires burned all around, but at one point, the smoke cleared just a bit and Karnes saw for the first time the massive destruction. “I just said ‘Oh, my God, it’s totally gone.'”
“I just had a sense, an overwhelming sense come over me that we were walking on hallowed ground, that tens of thousands of people could be trapped and dead beneath us,” he said.
An hour into searching and yelling, they heard a faint response, “We’re over here,” they heard. Twenty feet below the surface, two Port Authority police officers, Will Jimeno and Sgt. John McLoughlin, were buried in the center of the World Trade Center ruins. The two had been trapped for roughly nine hours.
Thomas immediately went for help while Karnes stayed with them, talking to them until help arrived in the form of Chuck Sereika, a former paramedic with an expired license, who had pulled his old uniform out of his closet and came to the site as well.
They dug for three hours and, at one point, it looked as if they would have to amputate Jimeno’s leg to free him. Fortunately, they were finally able to get both men out without amputation, and Karnes followed them to the hospital where he got a few hours of rest. While at the hospital, staff cleaned and pressed his uniform.
Sereika tells of working with Karnes and Sgt. Thomas. Sereika would yell orders he needed from his assistants. “Medic, I need air,” or “Marine, get me some water.” At one point, Sereika pointed out that it would be easier if they could call each other by their first names.
The medic said he was “Chuck.”
Karnes said: “You can call me ‘staff sergeant.’ ”
“That’s three syllables!” said Sereika, who needed every bit of energy and every second of time to concentrate on the victims. “Isn’t there something shorter?”
Karnes replied: “You can call me ‘staff sergeant.’ ”