September brings a solemn anniversary of 20 years since the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history.
Native New Yorker Frank Siller planned something monumental to mark it: a 500-mile walk in honor of the hundreds of first responders who died that day.
Siller intends to walk 537 miles, to be exact. That’s the distance between his starting point in Washington, D.C., and ground zero in New York City. The route was plotted to take him to all three locations, including Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where hijacked airplanes crashed on Sept. 11.
The trek’s final stretch through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel and into Manhattan will be perhaps the most significant for Siller. It was through that nearly 2-mile tunnel that his brother Stephen, a New York City firefighter, traversed on foot with 60 pounds of gear on his back en route to the World Trade Center, where he died.
“I want to honor what my brother did, but I want to honor what so many other people did as well,” Frank Siller told the Washington Examiner ahead of the walk’s kickoff at the Arlington Fire Station 5 near the Pentagon on Sunday.
Stephen Siller had just concluded his night shift that Tuesday morning and was on his way home to get ready to go golfing with his brothers.
“I was in my kitchen waiting for him — beautiful day, we all remember that,” Frank Siller said. “My brother George came to my house, and he said, ‘Frank, turn the TV on.’ The first tower was already hit, and then, I found out that his wife, Sally, Stephen called her and said, ‘Tell my brothers I'll try to catch up with them later.’”
Firefighter Stephen Siller Courtesy of Tunnel to Towers Foundation
Hours passed, and phone calls to Stephen Siller went unreturned. A friend who was a firefighter called Frank Siller to tell him that his brother was added to a list of missing first responders.
“He goes, ‘You know, it's very bad down there,’ and I said, ‘Yes, I know. I’ve been talking to people. I know how bad it is,’” Siller said. “He goes, ‘No, Frank, it’s really bad down there,’ and I said, ‘Richie, I know it’s bad.’ And he goes, ‘No, you don't understand. Nobody’s coming home.’”
“Obviously, we didn't go play golf,” he said.
Siller brothers golfing Courtesy of Tunnel to Towers Foundation
Stephen Siller was never recovered from the mass of rubble where the Twin Towers stood, but his six siblings were able to piece together his story from eyewitness accounts.
“We had a couple that was on their way to work that told me that they saw him come to a screeching halt in his black truck. He hopped out, put his gear on, and jogged into the tunnel,” Frank Siller said.
The bridges and tunnels in the city had been closed as a security response to the attack, meaning Stephen Siller’s only means of getting to Ground Zero was by foot.
Other firefighters told the Sillers they saw Stephen running through the tunnel toward the towers with his gear in tow.
“We thought that it would be important to honor what he did,” said Frank Siller. He, along with his siblings, started the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, an organization that provides financial support to the families of fallen first responders and military service members.
Siller, Tunnel to Towers's chairman and CEO, has been planning the walk for over a year and said it is the next step in the organization's mission to cover the mortgages of those families. The foundation set an objective of bringing on a million donors to commit $11 per month for its charitable programs.
"We do good by taking care of these great families that are left behind after our men and women in uniform die for our country or our communities," Siller said. "We want to take care of them."
Reaching the million-donor mark won't be easy, he said, and neither will the walk itself, which he expects to take six weeks at a rate of about 15 miles per day.
But he doesn't underestimate what will be required of him.
Siller set about training for the walk around 15 months ago and has walked about 100 miles per week — or upwards of 6,000 miles total.
He also hired planners with experience running marathons to help him sketch out the walk's course.
"We know every block, every street that I'm walking on, every turn, every left, every right, every straightaway, every mountain, every hill," Siller said. "They're going to warn me, 'Frank, tomorrow is going to be a tough day. You got a mountain to climb.'"
"I'm looking to complete it," he said, but even achieving that is secondary.
“Our first mission was always to ‘never forget’ and to honor the sacrifice, and that's what I want to do by doing this walk."
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Original Author: Jeremy Beaman