Staten Island Advance, N.Y.
The Tunnel to Towers Foundation gathered family, friends and first responders on Sunday to pay tribute to the lives lost to 9/11-related illnesses over the last 20 years.
Dandai Moreno, wife of New York Police Department (NYPD) Detective George Moreno, who died on July 30, 2021 from 9/11-related cancer, was able to honor her husband and share his story during the event.
“For me, any time his name gets mentioned… makes me feel like he is here, and I hope this makes everyone more aware of who he was and what he gave up to protect us, and what he left behind,” said Moreno, standing alongside their five children.
During the memorial ceremony, the names of all those lost to 9/11-related illnesses were read aloud — the first-ever event of its kind held by the organization.
The emotional event came a day after Tunnel to Towers Chairman and CEO Frank Siller finished his 537-mile “Never Forget Walk” that honored the lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. The walk aimed to encourage Americans to “never forget” the nearly 3,000 people killed on 9/11 — as well as garner support for the foundation, which provides mortgage-free homes to the families of late first responders, Gold Star families and catastrophically injured veterans.
Siller, a West Brighton resident, promised the Foundation would ensure that those who lost their lives helping America recover from 9/11 would never be forgotten.
“The tragedy of September 11, 2001 is still unfolding today,” Siller said. “We are still losing heroes who spent days and weeks searching through the rubble trying to bring closure to families, like mine, who were missing their loved ones.”
He said thousands of people are getting sick and suffering because of 9/11, and thousands have died of 9/11-related illness.
“The Tunnel to Towers Foundation has promised to never forget the sacrifices made on 9/11 and all of the sacrifices that have been made and continue to be made ever since. That is why we are here today,” Siller said.
The Tunnel to Towers Foundation pays off mortgages on the homes of first responders who lose their lives in the line of duty and leave behind young children. This year, the Foundation expanded this program to include first responders who lose their lives to 9/11-related illnesses.
For Jennifer McNamara, the widow of FDNY Firefighter John McNamara, this support means realizing a dream she shared with her late husband — the ability to leave their home to their son mortgage-free.
“I am so grateful to the Foundation, which is fulfilling my dream of being able to leave our home to our son mortgage-free,” she said. “That is a true blessing for us. Ultimately, I am grateful for so many of the faces I see in front of me today. My 9/11 family… 9/11 is not over, not for the families who lost someone on that day, or for those who continue to lose people to 9/11 illness. What is also not over is the love and the camaraderie that we all feel today. My wish is that we hold on to that and we remember each day, not just those we lost, but the feelings we have at this very moment.”
Siller started his 42-day, 537-mile journey on Aug. 1 at the Pentagon. He then traveled through Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, where he finished the walk at Ground Zero on the morning of Sept. 11. He started his final leg of the walk going through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, just as his brother, FDNY Firefighter Stephen Siller, did 20 years earlier.
Siller then walked to FDNY Ten House, home of FDNY Engine 10/Ladder 10, where his brother once served. Stephen Siller was one of 343 firefighters who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks.
“All I was thinking about was my brother,” Siller said about the journey. “About what he did running through the tunnel that tragic day to help, and to save lives. We lost 2,977 lives that day, including the first responders who willingly ran into those buildings and gave their lives to save over 20,000 people. My brother was a part of that. He’ll always be remembered as the firefighter who ran through the tunnel and gave up his life to help others.”
On Friday, Siller was greeted to a hero’s welcome as about 200 people came out to show their support and gratitude at a barbecue in Fort Wadsworth.
“I love being back on Staten Island, it is fitting — Stephen was born here, my whole family was born on Staten Island. It has been really meaningful to connect with people and have this gathering here,” he said. “It has been emotional. I’m sure tomorrow will be [emotional] going through the tunnel, but it is the right thing to do.”
Siller and his siblings have built the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, which has grown from a grassroots local organization to a national effort that makes sure heroic sacrifices by firefighters and police officers, as well as members of the U.S. military, are rewarded. In 2011 Siller made an announcement that the foundation would build a smart home for every “catastrophically injured service member.”
Over the years, the foundation has built more than 100 smart homes for severely injured U.S. military members.
Tunnel to Towers is encouraging supporters to sign on to donate $11 a month to the foundation. It has spent more than $250 million in support of first responders and veterans and their families. For more information visit the Tunnel to Towers website (https://t2t.org/).
(c)2021 Staten Island Advance, N.Y.
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