Thomas, a former Marine, found himself faced with the unimaginable one morning over seven years ago.
Sept. 11, 2001, began as a normal morning. A student commuting from Long Island at the time, Thomas drove toward Manhattan as soon as he heard what had happened.
“I immediately ran toward the trunk of my car and grabbed my uniform,” Thomas recalled.
He said that although he had made the commute several times, and has always been excellent with directions, he got lost that morning on his way to ground zero.
He credits the 15 minutes he spent finding the correct route into the city with possibly saving his life that day.
“God is good,” Thomas said. “He has full control of what I did, every move I made. If I had gotten to the city 15 minutes earlier, I would have run up to the towers, and who knows,” Thomas said.
When he arrived, Thomas said he couldn’t believe the sights, sounds and smells of what lay before him.
“It was just so horrible,” he said.
Trying to form a search and rescue team later in the day, Thomas was joined by only one other Marine. They rescued two Port Authority police officers trapped below the rubble. He said he used a camera to take photos of himself during the rescue, and left the camera where he believed it could later be found to give to his family, if he was unable to make it out of the ruins.
Telling his story this morning, he gave credit for his courage and actions to God. Thomas and his wife now have five children. He travels to tell the story of the day which changed his life.
After Thomas shared his speech, Master of Ceremonies Angela An introduced several local heroes who have contributed to the Knox County community.
The 2009 Youth Hero Award was presented to Mount Vernon Academy student and Cleveland native Daniel Graves, who began a program called Push for Poverty to help the disadvantaged in Knox County.
Knox County Sheriff Deputy Ryan Burgess was honored as the 2009 Public Safety Hero for his actions on Nov. 21, 2008. Burgess carried two children from a burning house on Coshocton Avenue in Mount Vernon. Burgess had been driving by the house on his way to another call when he noticed the fire, and ran to help.
This year’s Senior Heroes Award was presented to Bob and Sue Hillier of Mount Vernon, who have given hours as volunteers to their church community, Interchurch Social Services and a mentoring program for young adults.
United Precrast truck driver Mike Grogg was honored as the 2009 Workplace Hero for stopping to help another truck driver who had been injured when his truck overturned on Ohio 95 last year. Grogg grabbed the fire extinguisher from his truck, and ran to help and rescue the injured man.
The Education Hero Award was given to Jane Marlow, Knox County Career Center Computerized Office Technologies program director and instructor. She was nominated for her compassion, patience and professionalism.
The 2009 Community Hero Award was presented to Tom Ridgeway, who after reading about the plight of a local family in the Mount Vernon News, took practical action to bring aid to the family’s situation.
Ridgeway and his son brought loads of wood to heat the family’s home, and also provided a generator and fuel to provide electricity to the home. This was especially crucial because one of the family members was on dialysis.
This year’s Healthcare Hero is Dr. Thomas Glibert, D.D.S., who donates dental services to the community each year. Over 100 patients who could not otherwise afford the care are provided with professional, caring treatment by Glibert and his staff in Danville.
The Armed Forces Award will be presented by friends to David Levering, who is an Army veteran of the Vietnam War. Levering could not be at the breakfast due to recent surgery, but was praised for his service to local veterans.
Mark Ramser received the 2009 Humanitarian of the Year Award. Ramser has given time and resources over many years to a number of Knox County organizations, and was celebrated for his contagious energy and reputation for giving from the heart.