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Twenty-one years ago on September 11, 2001, our nation experienced the largest terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Across the country, people watched as the World Trade Center crumbled, a flight to Washington D.C. was hijacked and flown into the Pentagon, and as 44 innocent people perished in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. That same day, I lost my brother, firefighter Stephen Siller. In total, 2,977 human beings perished at the hands of hatred.
To this day, many are still haunted by the tragedy of 9/11. Those who are suffering from post-9/11 related illness, the 7,000 military families who have lost loved ones fighting the war on terror, and families like mine, whose loved ones answered the call as first responders on September 11. We are all still coping with the devastation of that fateful day.
It is important to recognize that the heroism that was exhibited on that day was nothing short of incredible. As we reflect on the 21 years that have passed since September 11th, 2001, we must remember the incredible sacrifices made by ordinary people who died as heroes.
We remember Gene Raggio, a Port Authority supervisor known as the Mayor of the Twin Towers, who survived the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, and sacrificed his life to save others on 9/11.
Stephen Siller, NYC firefighter and 9/11 hero. (Frank Siller // Tunnel to Towers)
We remember NYPD Officer Moira Smith, who was in the South Tower helping people evacuate, repeating over and over, “Don’t look, keep moving, keep moving!” There is no telling how many people she saved.
We remember the man in the red bandana, Welles Crowther, who saved countless lives on what should have been a normal day at work. He wasn’t a firefighter, he wasn’t a police officer, but like so many that day, he made the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of others.
We remember Todd Beamer, and the other brave passengers on Flight 93, who valiantly fought the hijackers, before they crashed in Shanksville. We vow to never forget Todd’s last words, “Let’s roll!” or the immense bravery he exhibited in his final moments.
We remember FDNY Battalion Chief Orio Palmer, along with his band of brothers, who made it up to the 78th floor of the South Tower, to help evacuate civilians, giving up their lives in the process.
We remember my brother, FDNY Firefighter Stephen Siller, who strapped 60 pounds of gear on his back, and ran through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the Towers, where he gave up his life while saving others, leaving behind his wife and five children.
We remember those who were on the pile every day, looking for my brother, for their brothers. The heroes who worked at Ground Zero for so long, and who witnessed their rescue missions evolve into recovery missions are suffering still. From this, they developed diseases related to exposure to toxins, which continue to affect thousands of people every day.
These brave men and women willingly ran towards the fire, crawled through bent steel and rubble, and fought for our freedoms overseas, and for that, we will make sure that their legacies are not forgotten.
Every year, without fail, their names are read aloud to remember the sacrifices they have made. The reading of the names is a tradition that will live on long after we have all gone, as our duty to Never Forget is ongoing, and our work will never be finished.
Thick smoke billows into the sky from the area behind the Statue of Liberty, lower left, where the World Trade Center was, on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Daniel Hulshizer)
There’s a quote sometimes attributed to Ernest Hemingway that said, “Every man has two deaths, when he is buried in the ground and the last time someone says his name. In some ways men can be immortal.” This sentiment represents what the Tunnel to Towers Foundation is all about. We work tirelessly each day to ensure that those who lost their lives on 9/11, the men and women who have lost their lives fighting for our freedoms every day since, and those who suffer from or have passed due to 9/11 related illness, are immortalized. It is our first responsibility to make sure that their names are never forgotten, and their memory lives on through the work that we do.
When faced with adversity, the American people banded together to support each other, to love each other. Born from this tragedy was the Tunnel to Towers Foundation. We operate on the belief that while we are here, with the time that we have left, it is our responsibility to help others. In the words of St. Francis of Assisi, “Brothers, while we have time, let us do good.”
Frank Siller is the chairman & CEO of the Tunnel to Towers Foundation. The Tunnel to Towers Foundation was established in memory of Frank’s brother, fallen FDNY Firefighter Stephen Siller.