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Officer James Nelson

PAPD Police Academy

Officer Nelson's Act of Heroism

Over 400 first responders lost their lives on September 11, 2001. Heroically performing their sworn duty, these firefighters, members of the NYPD and PAPD, and numerous other rescue workers will forever be remembered for their sacrifice.

My Hero

James A. Nelson lost his father when he was 9 years old, and that experience followed him throughout his professional and personal life. He told his wife, Roseanne, he wanted to be the father he never had for his daughters, Anne, 11, and Caitlin, 5. And the loss also helped cement his plans to be a police officer. "From the time he was a child, Jimmy always wanted to be a police officer," said his brother, Robert. "He always said he wanted a noble profession and that police were important people."

A veteran of the Port Authority Police Department for 16 years, Mr. Nelson worked teaching recruits at the department's academy in Jersey City. But when the emergency call came in on Sept. 11, he rushed to the Twin Towers.

"One of the other guys who graduated the academy with him said the thing that impressed him about Jimmy was that he never lost the fire for the job," said his brother. "He still had the fire."

Mr. Nelson, 40, was evacuating workers from the 27th floor of one of the two towers -- the family was unsure yesterday which one -- when it collapsed. A co-worker with him that day told the family that Mr. Nelson refused to leave while others were inside. "He just wanted to help people," his wife said. "He told me, 'When I go out of this world, I want to know I made a difference.' He made the best of each day that he lived."

Mr. Nelson had also rescued people in the aftermath of the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, braving the black smoke despite his asthma. "You have to do what you have to do," he told his brother shortly after that incident. "There were people inside."

But it was his family that was his true passion. He was concerned enough about his daughters' education that he ran for the school board in Clark. And although his sports in college had been fencing and football, he eagerly volunteered to coach Anne's softball team. He looked forward to doing the same for Caitlin. "The job was No. 2 to having his own family," Robert Nelson said. "He wanted to be the kind of father he never knew."

Mrs. Nelson's wife said her husband often talked about growing up without a father, saying he didn't want his children to have to struggle. "He's a big loss to the country and the Port Authority," she said. "But he's a bigger loss to the family. He was a true angel. He was my best friend." Also surviving is a sister, Kitty Grinnell of New York.

Profile by Steve Chambers published in THE STAR-LEDGER.
Information courtesy of the Remember 9/11/2001 memorial site on


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