By Greg Robin
For Hometown News
No one disputes that five years ago the United States suffered tragic horror and loss unlike ever before.
But the same doesn't hold true for a recent movie's depiction of the events and some of the men who became heroes that day.
And some of those heroes who are outraged at the movie, including a Vero Beach man, plan to write a book that will explain what they contend really happened, as opposed to the depiction in "World Trade Center."
But others associated with the movie, including the producer, contend the movie did a good job of portraying what happened in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001.
Chuck Sereika, 37, a Vero Beach resident and former paramedic whose license was expired when he voluntarily helped rescue a police officer, said the entire rescue scene depicted in the film was inaccurate.
"It was all Hollywood fiction," he said.
Staff Sgt. Dave Karnes, who first discovered the trapped officers, Tommy Asher, a New York City firefighter, and Mr. Sereika are appalled at the misinterpretation of the film.
In response, they began working on a book to summarize what they believe transpired during the rescue of Port Authority police officers, Will Jimeno and Sgt. John McLaughlin.
The book, which they hope to publish next year, will also explain their disgust for the film and the people involved, Mr. Sereika said.
The first section will include a biography of the three men, as well as how each of them first learned of the attacks. It will also give a detailed description of the entire rescue, Mr. Sereika said.
A second section will explain what occurred throughout the next three years, which caused a rift between Officer Jimeno and the men.
The conclusion will discuss what the authors contend are erroneous parts of the film, and may provide some of their theories as to why they were inaccurately portrayed, Mr. Sereika said.
He said that him and Staff Sgt. Karnes, who at the time was an "off contract" U.S. Marine, were the first to help rescue officers McLaughlin and Jimeno from the rubble of the fallen south tower.
The film depicts Scott Strauss, a New York City police officer and member of the Emergency Services Unit, and Mr. Sereika crawling into a 20 to 30 foot hole to rescue the officers.
However, Staff Sgt. Karnes and Mr. Sereika said they arrived 20 to 30 minutes before any other rescuers.
Staff Sgt. Karnes, 48, first saw the film at an advanced screening.
"I was very close to walking out, because it was not the rescue I participated in," he said.
The rescue process was considerably more arduous than the film shows, Mr. Sereika said.
He said it was a delicate procedure and took three hours to free Officer Jimeno from the debris.
Mr. Asher, 37 said the rescue was more amazing than what was depicted in the film.
"It was nothing short of a miracle," Staff Sgt. Karnes said. He said it was God's grace that a paramedic, a U.S. Marine, a firefighter and two police officers were all in the hole with Officer Jemino.
"We all just happened to show up at the right time," Mr. Asher said." "We were like a well-oiled machine."
Michael Shamberg, the film's producer, responded by saying that the focus of the film was the struggle of officers Jimeno and McLaughlin's struggle for survival, and the lack of time in the film prevented a focus on any one hero.
"We condensed facts to accelerate the story telling," Mr. Shamberg said.
He added that the idea behind the rescue scene was to show a glimpse of all of the people responsible for saving the two officers, rather than focus on any individual.
"We did our best to pay tribute to everybody," he said.
Mr. Sereika and Staff Sgt. Karnes said they are also annoyed that Mr. Asher had a minimal role in the film.
According to them, Mr. Asher was responsible for extinguishing a fire that almost consumed Officer Jimeno.
"He saved all of our lives," Mr. Sereika said.
"This was a vital guy in the hole, but they choose to give him very little of the movie's time," Staff Sgt. Karnes said.
Mr. Asher said he believes his role was reduced because of a hidden rift between Port Authority police officers and New York City firefighters.
He said that many Port Authority officers felt slighted that the firefighters received most of the recognition for rescue efforts, and this was Officer Jimeno's way of getting them their recognition.
Officer Jimeno denied that the film was aimed at gaining recognition primarily for the Port Authority Police Department and said it was backed by the three fire departments responsible for rescuing the two men.
"We (officers Jimeno and McLaughlin) were just the vehicles to show people what all of the rescuers did," Officer Jimeno said. "I wouldn't want the fire department shamed at all, because they worked with us hand in hand."
He also said that although he felt Mr. Asher played a major part in his rescue, his role in the film was appropriate.
Mr. Sereika also said he feels the film did not give him proper credit for rescuing Officer Jimeno.
"I played a much bigger role in rescuing Jimeno than the film depicted," he said. "I was by Jimeno's side for three hours digging him out and giving him oxygen and IV fluids."
Officer Jimeno responded to the criticism of the men by saying that the film would be too long if it depicted everyone's heroism.
He said he disagrees that the film's focus was on him and Officer McLaughlin.
"It's not about any individual," Officer Jimeno said. "It's about the 40 men involved in both rescues."
Despite Mr. Asher's expressed disgust with Officer Jimeno, he said he does not feel that director Oliver Stone nor Paramount Pictures intentionally misportrayed the film. He said that Mr. Stone and Mr. Shamberg were only using information that consultants gave them, and their intentions were to make the film entirely accurate.
Mr. Sereika, on the other hand, said he believes producers knew beforehand that their version was a lie, because of previous statements that Officer Strauss gave in a Nov 6, 2001, New York Times article.
"I would have hoped they would have had more respect for us and told the truth," Mr. Sereika said.
In the article, Officer Strauss, along with other emergency officers, said that when they dropped into the hole, they already saw Mr. Sereika tending to Officer Jimeno.
When asked about the conflicting statements, Officer Strauss said that the confined and smoky conditions in the hole caused producers to have to change the rescue scene.
"They wanted to take the viewing experience of the audience into consideration," he said.
He added that the focus of the film was not intended to be about the rescue, but on the two trapped officers, and the events that took place that day between them and their families.
Officer Strauss said he doesn't feel it matters who tended to the men first.
"It doesn't change the story," he said. "It's important that we worked as a team."
Mr. Shamberg, who has produced such films as "Pulp Fiction," "Erin Brockovich," "Garden State" and "Along Came Polly," responded to the criticism of the rescue scene by saying that the script was based on first- hand accounts of 10 film consultants involved in the rescue, and many of them had different scenarios.
"We had editorial control and verified details with people who were part of the rescue and who worked on the film," he said.
Officer McLaughlin, played by actor Nicolas Cage, was in a medically- induced coma for six weeks after the rescue and told him that he had no recollection of that day, Mr. Sereika said.
He said that he believes that this resulted in Officer Jimeno being able to manipulate the script, and that he intentionally told producers to alter what occurred.
"America has been duped by Will Jimeno," Staff Sgt. Karnes said.
Officer Jimeno denied that he had any control on the script, and said that Mr. Stone had already began researching the facts before he became involved with the film.
Mr. Sereika said that Officer Jimeno wanted Staff Sgt. Karnes to leave certain men out of any film or book projects. When Staff Sgt. Karnes insisted that each man receive credit and an equal amount of money, Officer Jimeno betrayed him, Mr. Sereika said.
"They would be dead if it wasn't for Staff Sgt. Karnes, and they turned on him like a pack of wolves," he said.
Officer Jimeno denied ever trying to exclude Karnes or anyone else from any projects.
"I would never do that to an American hero," Officer Jimeno said.
Another reason why Mr. Sereika said he believes that Officer Jimeno had control of the film is because Mr. Asher told him that Officer Jimeno threatened to leave the set if Mr. Sereika was there.
Officer Jimeno denied that he ever told Mr. Asher about leaving the set.
"I don't know where this came from," Officer Jimeno said. "I am very saddened to hear that Mr. Asher is saying these things."
Mr. Shamberg said that at no point in time did any of the film's crew plan on asking Mr. Sereika to visit the set, because all of the information needed from him had already been obtained.
He also denied that Officer Jimeno ever had control of the film, and said he never threatened to leave the set.
"We had many consultants on the film telling us what happened," Mr. Shamberg said. "There was no one consultant who had any control. We had the control."
Mr. Sereika and Staff Sgt. Karnes said they also feel that their characters do not accurately represent them.
"They keep portraying me as this errant Marine who defied authority," Staff St. Karnes said. However, he said that before the rescue, people at the Brooklyn Marine Corp. Center were backing him and wished him good luck.
"I was probably more trained and more professional for what I did than anyone down there," Staff Sgt. Karnes said.
Mr. Sereika said he also feels disrespected with the way he was depicted in the film.
"They portrayed me as this person with all of these problems," Sereika said.
The film describes him as a man with an expired paramedic license who is trying to get his life back together. At no point during the rescue did anyone know his license expired or of any personal problems he might have had, he said.
What angered Mr. Sereika most about the film was the focus on the morbid death of Dominick A. Pezzulo, a Port Authority police officer who perished in the collapse. He said that Officer Pezzulo's family begged producers and Officer Jimeno to cut the gory scene that shows him suffering before his demise.
"They exploited his death to make money," he said.
Officer Jimeno, on the other hand. said he felt it was important to include the scene.
"I understand that the family was upset, but we made a decision to tell the truth," Officer Jimeno said. "If we didn't show his heroism, it would be a dishonor."
In a June 16 article in The Star-Ledger, a New Jersey daily newspaper, Officer Pezzulo's widow, Jeanette, said she was upset that producers would not let her view the scene before the release of the film.
"Show me how you edited it to be sympathetic to my family," she said in the article. "If you've done it, let me see it."
Mr. Shamberg said he felt differently about the scene, and that it was important to include it in the film to pay tribute to Officer Pezzulo and all of the heroes who perished that day.
The three heroes writing the book said their rescue will forever have an impact on their lives.
After eight days of searching for survivors at ground zero, Staff Sgt. Karnes re-enlisted as a Marine where he served in Okinawa, Japan, and the Philippines, and recently returned home after 17 months in Iraq.
He said he plans to retire within the next few months and will return to work to what he said is one of the world's largest accounting firms.
Like with thousands of other courageous rescuers, pollutants from the collapsed buildings caused Mr. Asher to become chronically ill with lung disease and he said he lost 30 percent of his lung capacity.
He was one of the 70 percent of rescue workers at Ground Zero who have since suffered from respiratory problems, according to a Mount Sinai Medical Center study.
In March, he was forced into early retirement from the fire department. Him and his wife, Maria, live in Elmont, N.Y., with their two children, where they own a nursery school.
Mr. Sereika and his fiancÚ, Tracy, own Clean As A Whistle Cleaning Service in Vero Beach.
About 2,749 people died in the World Trade Center attacks, and the officers were two of only 20 people to be pulled out of ground zero alive, Mr. Sereika said.
Once their book is published, he said he encourages people to read it, so they will have an accurate picture of what happened.
"I figured that America deserves to know the truth about that day," Mr. Sereika said. "They certainly didn't get it from Oliver Stone."