Brother of FDNY firefighter killed on 9/11 walking 500+ miles for 20th anniversary
One of Frank Siller's goals for his journey is to encourage people to donate $11 a month to the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, created in his late brother's memory
Ann Marie Barron
Staten Island Advance, N.Y.
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Twenty five days into his 537-mile walk from the Pentagon to Ground Zero to honor and support first responders and their families, Frank Siller's inspiration has yet to wane — and he doesn't even sound winded.
"I think it's because everyone's spirits have carried me, especially my brother Stephen's spirit," he told the Advance/SILive.com Tuesday morning as he walked through the hills of Pennsylvania as part of the Never Forget Walk that will take him through six states in six weeks.
The Westerleigh resident said he keeps his eye on his two-fold goal, which makes the hills, the rain and the blisters a bit easier to handle as he heads this week through Willow Hill, Roxbury, Newburg, Carlisle, Harrisburg and takes a weekend stop in Hershey.
First, he's encouraging Americans to "never forget" the sacrifices of the nearly 3,000 Americans murdered by the events of 9/11 — including his brother, Stephen, who was off duty when he became one of 343 New York City firefighters killed responding to the tragic events that day.
"Families are without their loved ones because they died for us," he said. "This walk is about all of them, all these heroes and the innocent lives that these terrorists killed nearly 20 years ago. My brother inspires me every day of my life, as do all the first responders who responded to a call for action."
His second goal is to encourage 1 million supporters to sign on to donate $11 a month to the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, created in his late brother's memory. The foundation thus far has spent more than $250 million and has provided 200 mortgage-free homes this year alone to the families of lost military and first-responders.
Frank Siller, brother of fallen NYC firefighter, stops at the Flight 93 National Memorial during his 537-mile walk between the Pentagon, the memorial, and the towers.— Alexandra Wimley (@alexandrawimley) August 23, 2021
Via @SeanDHamill: Honoring the fallen of 9/11, but Afghanistan is on everyone’s mind: https://t.co/LwagW5zgU8 pic.twitter.com/6lSjedKxIP
"You do the math," he said. "Do you have a mortgage? We only can do it if people continue to give $11 a month. It's crazy to think that $11 a month can get us this far, but it has. We're not asking for much to help these families of those who would die for you and I. The Fire Department says, 'many hands make light work,' and I think we should be able to get 1 million Americans to do this. I know there are tens of millions who want to."
The support he's received on the journey thus far has been overwhelming, he said. "Every day, people stop and jump out of their cars, shake my hand, take pictures," he said. "They yell out of their car, 'never forget'."
The gestures made by local fire and police departments along the way continue to surprise him, he said.
"I thought they'd give me an escort for five minutes," he said of the first responders who drove up beside him as he entered the tiny borough of Mechanicsburg, Pa. "What I didn't expect were hundreds of people waiting to walk with me through their two-mile town."
Especially emotional was his recent stop, Aug. 21, in Shanksville, Pa., he said.
After about 40 NYC firefighters cooked breakfast for him and local supporters, (there have been 40 to 70 city firefighters in each town along the way) more than 200 people joined him on a 2.7-mile walk to the Flight 93 National Memorial.
There, a "big, beautiful boulder,' marks the site where the United Airlines flight crashed Sept. 11 after passengers overran the terrorists, thwarting an attack on the White House or the U.S. Capitol.
"I invited my firefighter buddies to join me, and we all had our hands on it and said the Lord's Prayer and I can't even tell you the emotion that came over us," he said. "It's inexplicable the closeness we have with those heroes, and I know it's a moment we will never forget. This walk is about all of them."
Four this next leg of the journey, heading into Hershey, Siller is joined by his wife, Patricia, his daughter, Elizabeth Siller Winters, and three of his grandsons — John, Nicholas and Christopher. His son, Justin, will also join him, bringing with him his wife, Courtney, and their children, Hannah, Charlotte and Nolan.
He will also welcome his sister and brother-in-law, with several nieces and nephews, as he heads toward Hershey, where a parade, a barbecue and the 9/11 NEVER FORGET Mobile Exhibit, an 83-foot tractor-trailer that transforms into an 1,100-square-foot exhibit, await them.
Siller's 15 months of physical training, most of it in his beloved Clove Lakes Park, and his spiritual preparation, which, he proudly noted, takes place in Blessed Sacrament R.C. Church, has primed him for the journey, he said, but nothing could prepare him for the emotions.
"It's unbelievable," he said, encouraging others to consider that the uphill challenges he faces daily pale in comparison to the goals of the foundation.
"They have to stop and think of who they're helping and join us on a mission," he said. "We made a promise that if you go serve your country or your community, you give your kids a kiss goodbye and don't come home ... we're going to give them a home."
(c)2021 Staten Island Advance, N.Y.