Tunnel to Towers NEVER FORGET Walk: Honoring 9/11 victims 20 years later

Published: Sep. 7, 2021 at 12:54 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - “We were all walking, I mean to get through those days in the beginning was just like unbearable,” Frank Siller said.

Siller has been putting one foot in front of the other every day for two decades now, like anyone who lost a loved one in the Sept. 11 attacks, still seeking a way to cope with the pain.

But now, he walks like never before.

“Because it was the 20th year since 9/11, I wanted to do something unique and special in honor of my brother and all those who perished in 9/11,” Siller said.

That’s all the chairman and CEO of the Tunnel to Towers Foundation has done for 20 years, keeping alive the memory and remarkable sacrifice his brother, Stephen, made that day.

Stephen Siller had just gotten off duty from his Brooklyn firehouse when the first plane flew into the World Trade Center. He sped toward Manhattan, and when he found the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel closed to traffic, he strapped on 60 pounds of gear and ran through the tunnel to the twin towers and was among the 343 New York City firefighters killed when the towers collapsed.

“He came out of the tunnel and saw two buildings that were hit and on fire, he saw that horrific scene and ran into, we believe the South tower and while saving lives gave up his own,” Siller said.

That sacrifice was the inspiration for the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, which builds custom smart homes for catastrophically injured combat veterans and pays off the mortgages of first responders killed in the line of duty. The organization has provided three homes in and around Savannah, which had a Tunnel to Towers 5K run from 2012-2018.

On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Siller is hitting the road in a new way.

“I am going to walk from the Pentagon to Shanksville to Ground Zero, three places where there was so much loss of life 20 years ago. So, it became a very powerful journey,” Siller said.

The Tunnel to Towers Never Forget Walk was conceived to raise money and awareness.

“Part of the purpose of this journey is so these young parents talk to their kids about what happened 20 years ago, we’re going to shine a big light on what happened 20 years ago and we don’t want it to happen again so American families don’t have to live through what we lived through and American lived through.”

Over 42 days, Siller will walk 550 miles through six states, with parades and ceremonies at several stops along the way.

“I have different people walking with me almost every day. A few days I’ve walked by myself, which I love as well because it gives me a lot of time to reflect why I’m doing this and of course I’m thinking about my brother the whole time. It’s been really a spiritual journey.”

And it will allow Tunnel to Towers to continue to follow its core principal based on the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi.

“Brothers and sisters while we have time, let us do good. And that’s the whole premise of the foundation, to rise above it. Good will always defeat evil and the foundation needs to do good to defeat that evil and that’s what we’ve been doing now for 20 years, we’re going to deliver 200 mortgage-free homes this year, 200 mortgage-free homes. We’re going to keep that promise. There’ll never be another police officer or firefighter or service member who dies in the line of duty that has a young family that we don’t take care of. That is our promise and we’re going to keep it.”

This week, the Never Forget Walk will keep Siller on a schedule that has him arriving at the Sept. 11th memorial on the 20th anniversary of the attacks.

“I’ll be with my children and my grandchildren, be with my wife who has been my great supporter for these 20 years, allowing me to put all of my time and energy into this great foundation. And of course, I’ll be with my nephews and nieces and brothers and sisters and Stephen’s children. So, it’s going to be a very impactful walk the last day or two for sure.”

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