Everyone has a story: Mark Finelli

Lisa Beth Earle | The Daily Wildcat Lisa Beth Earle / Arizona Daily Wildcat Mark Finelli, an Eller MBA student, is a war veteran who was inspired to join the U.S. Marine Corps after surviving the collapse of the World Trade Center South Tower on September 11. Finelli credits the new GI Bill for funding his UA degree.

""Everyone has a story"" is a weekly segment in the Arizona Daily Wildcat that aims to tell the story of an interesting person on the UA campus. This week, the Daily Wildcat interviewed Mark Finelli, a 9/11 survivor, Iraq war veteran and Eller graduate student. 

The morning of Sept. 11, 2001, was the most beautiful New York morning that Finelli had ever seen.


""There was something so magical about that morning, which is really odd considering the treachery that happened later that day,"" Finelli said.

A native New Yorker, Finelli had been training for an investment banking position at the World Trade Center.

""It was picture-perfect weather, very sunny, it must have been 72 degrees. It's never that nice in New York. There was no humidity at all, not too muggy or cold, just a perfect September day. You couldn't beat it,"" he said.

New York didn't remain picturesque for very long. Finelli was on the 61st floor of the south tower when the north tower was struck.

""There were about 100 of us sitting by a coffee bin laughing, and suddenly, the tower next door to us completely exploded,"" Finelli said.

Finelli remembers seeing a million pieces of paper and dust outside.

After going into the boardroom to get his cell phone, Finelli ran for the stairwell.

He decided it would be faster to take the stairs than the elevator.

""I thought there had been a pipe bomb explosion in the north tower, so I assumed I had the day off,"" he said.

By the time he got to the 41st floor, a woman yelled that a plane had flown into the tower next door.

""For reasons I'm still not sure of, I started running really fast at that point,"" Finelli said.

Finelli felt the building shake when he arrived on the 11th floor. His tower had been struck. Shortly thereafter, he smelled jet fuel, a scent he recognized from skydiving.

""I got to the lobby and a security guard tried to stop me from leaving the building,"" Finelli said.

There were bodies lying outside and people were jumping from both buildings and the guard thought it would be dangerous.

After barreling past the guard, Finelli ran ""like Forrest Gump,"" as he describes, toward the Hudson River.

Once he got there, he was told by a passerby that the World Trade Centers had been attacked by terrorists.

Then the ground started shaking, and Finelli watched from afar as the south tower collapsed.

""Manhattan literally bounced as the tower(s) fell,"" Finelli said. ""A wave of soot came at me, and I jumped onto a fire department boat, which took me to New Jersey.""

Soon after arriving at a T.G.I. Friday's in New Jersey, Finelli picked up his phone and told a few people that he was OK and was going to join the Marine Corps.

""I just had to do it, because the firemen saved me. You get to live because they die, and I wanted to do something for them,"" Finelli said.

Finelli soon enlisted in the Marines. From July 2005 to February 2006, Finelli served in Iraq. Since serving, Finelli has appeared on Fox News, MSNBC and CNN, and he occasionally contributes to Newsweek.

Finelli is now an Eller student under the G.I. Bill but says he had an easier time serving in the military.

""The Eller College of Management is more stressful than the United States Marine Corps,"" Finelli said. ""The workload is enormous. Take away the possibility of getting killed or maimed, and the Eller school is more difficult than the Marines.""

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