The widow of the only one Iowa resident killed in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks decided against attending a 10th anniversary ceremony at Ground Zero Sunday. Jean Cleere of Newton has attended almost every anniversary of 9-11 in New York City, but this year she stayed in Iowa to work on her own tribute to those who risk their lives every day.
Jean’s husband, Jim, was in New York on business on September 11, 2001. His hotel was in the shadow of the Twin Towers. Jean spoke to her husband that morning before she went to work at the Maytag plant in Newton. “We finished up our conversation and I was able to say goodbye, I love you, I’ll see you when you get home and that’s the last time I talked to him,” Jean said.
When the first plane hit, Jim made it down 15 flights of stairs from his hotel room to the lobby. He had been hurt and couldn’t walk on his own. Firefighters were trying to get him out of the hotel when the first tower fell, crushing them.
Through witness accounts in books and magazines, Jean was able to find the names of the two firefighters who died alongside Jim. She met the son of one of the firefighters at a memorial at Ground Zero.
“I cleared my throat and I said, ‘your father made a decision to try and save my husband,'” Jean said. Jim Cleere was the vice-president of telecommunications for Seabury and Smith out of Des Moines. He and Jean were married 23 years. When Jean retrieved Jim’s car at the airport parking lot, she found his wedding ring in the care and it was as if he’d left a message behind in the ring he was planning to have re-sized.
“This is the man I married,” Jean said as she held the ring. “I can’t think of a better gift, other than having him back. But that’s okay too because I know where he’s at…I truly believe he’s in heaven.” Jean says family, friends and her faith have helped her cope with the loss of her husband.
“I have a very strong faith,” Jean said. “When we were watching those towers come down, we just prayed, ‘Lord, we don’t like what’s happening and you know the desire of our hearts is we want Jim to come home, but we know that you’re a God who’s in control and if that’s not in your plan, we will be okay.'”
Jean Cleere is raising funds to build a firefighter tribute in her hometown of Newton.
By Beth Malicki, KCRG-TV, Cedar Rapids