Frank Siller is on a mission and headed to the World Trade Center.
His mission is to spread the word about the good works of the Tunnel to Towers Stephen Siller Foundation. He is walking 537 miles through six states after starting out three weeks ago from a firehouse whose members responded to the Pentagon on 9/11. He will follow in his brother’s foot steps to Ground Zero.
My wife, Patty, joined Frank on his trek. Her hero brother FDNY LT Joe Leavey also ran into the South Tower and never came home. Historic roads led them to the Flight 93 Memorial up a steep mountain just north of Shanksville.
They did not walk alone.
A Color Guard rendered honors. A platoon of firefighters – 9/11 responders to the WTC and Flight 93 sites – in uniform and full turnout gear marched those green hills alongside them. Firetrucks, red lights flashing, within the parade gave rest to the weary. Farmers and neighbors formed at the crossroads, stood, waved, and watched us pass. A lonely yet brave State Trooper guarded our six.
We drove on and walked on to the Flight 93 Memorial.
We were surrounded by visitors, 9/11 first responders, family members, park rangers, and military veterans. 9/11 Shanksville FD first responder to the Flight 93 crash site Assistant Chief Rick King became choked up, paused, and said, "It is my first time back here on this sacred ground since that day; it feels like I never left."
A 9/11 blue sky formed over our heads. It would grow cloudy, and somehow a bit of dust got into our eyes. Yet we could not help but smile.
On a beautiful Tuesday morning twenty years ago, FDNY Firefighter Stephen Siller had just gotten off work. He heard over his car radio that the towers of the World Trade Center had been attacked and were burning.
He raced back to Squad 1, grabbed his turnout gear, and drove to the entrance of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. The entrance was jammed with vehicles. Stephen Siller had a choice to make, and he and 40 heroes aboard Flight 93 made the same decision.
I’ll let Frank Siller re-tell their story. (Frank’s words are powerful. You may need a seat and to turn up the volume. Seated in the foreground of the video were our hosts Superintendent Steve Clark of the National Park Service and Patrick White, the first cousin of Flight 93 hero Louis J. "Joey" Nacke II.)
Please take the time to watch the full 5 minutes and eight second video of Frank Siller on sacred ground.
"Needless to say, I am overcome with emotion to be here at this hallowed ground.
"Steve [Clark], your words were so beautiful. Patrick [White], your words were so beautiful. You just told the story of how it happened. It's simple but it has to be told.
"Who here would do what those 40 great heroes did on that Flight 93 almost 20 years ago?
"Think about it; think about what they did. It is incredible.
"It speaks of heroism that I don't believe I'll know myself, for sure, but I know of because of my brother and what he did 20 years ago and what everyone did on Flight 93. It is incredible.
"It is the story of the human spirit, and it is the story of America, the greatness of America, and how, when somebody attacks America, how we all come together as Americans.
"[Those aboard Flight 93] when they knew on that plane that the towers were hit and the Pentagon was hit, they were faced with the choice just like my brother was. When [Stephen] reached the mouth of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and couldn't get there in a car, he was faced with the choice. Stephen’s choice was to put 60 pounds of gear on his back and to run the 2 miles through the Battery Tunnel, up West Street, and into the South Tower. While saving lives – no greater love – he gave up his own.
"And the 40 on Flight 93, as they were approaching and flying, they knew [terrorists in the cockpit] were going to kill more Americans on the ground, and they weren't going to let that happen.
"It is incredible. Our kids and our grandkids have to know the story, what happened 20 years ago. We can never forget. …"
That day, more than 400 first responders gave their lives while saving others.
7,000 American troops gave their all since 9/11. Many of our warriors have been catastrophically wounded. Our first responders lay it all on the line every day to protect us. Gold Star families grieve and carry on.
We must never forget. And we must lift them up and walk beside them.
Please visit T2T.ORG to learn more and, if you are able, lend your support to our catastrophically wounded troops, fallen first responders, and Gold Star families with young children.
"Let us do good."