We honor 9/11 heroes like my brother, firefighter Stephen Siller, by doing good works in their name

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Twenty-one years ago, on September 11, 2001, our country experienced the largest terrorist attack on American soil. People across the country watched as the World Trade Center collapsed, a flight to Washington DC was hijacked and flown to the Pentagon, and 44 innocent people died in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. That same day I lost my brother, firefighter Stephen Siller. A total of 2,977 people were killed by hatred.

To this day, many are still haunted by the tragedy of 9/11. Those suffering from post-9/11-related illnesses, the 7,000 military families who have lost loved ones in the fight against terrorism, and families like mine, whose loved ones answered the call as first responders on September 11. We are all still coping with the devastation of that fateful day.

It is important to recognize that the heroism displayed on that day was nothing short of incredible. As we reflect on the 21 years that have passed since September 11, 2001, we must remember the incredible sacrifices made by ordinary people who died as heroes.

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We remember Gene Raggio, a Port Authority supervisor known as the mayor of the Twin Towers, who survived the 1993 World Trade Center attack and sacrificed his life to save others on 9/11.

We remember NYPD officer Moira Smith, who in the South Tower helped evacuate people, repeating over and over, “Don’t look, keep moving, keep moving!” There is no telling how many people she has saved.

We remember the man in the red bandana, Welles Crowther, who saved countless lives on what should have been a normal work day. He wasn’t a firefighter, he wasn’t a police officer, but like so many that day, he made the ultimate sacrifice for the good of others.

We remember Todd Beamer and the other brave passengers of Flight 93, who fought valiantly against the hijackers before crashing into Shanksville. We promise to never forget Todd’s last words: “Let’s get started!” or the immense courage he displayed in his last moments.

We remember FDNY battalion chief Orio Palmer, along with his group of brothers, who reached the 78th floor of the South Tower to help evacuate civilians, giving up their lives in the process.

We remember my brother, firefighter Stephen Siller, FDNY, who strapped 60 pounds of gear to his back and ran through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the Towers, where he gave up his life saving others, leaving behind his wife and five children.

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We remember those who lay in the pile every day, looking for my brother, for their brothers. The heroes who have worked at Ground Zero for so long and who have seen their rescue missions evolve into recovery missions are still suffering. Because of this, they developed diseases related to exposure to toxins, which still affect thousands of people every day.

These brave men and women willingly ran to the fire, crawled through bent steel and rubble, and fought for our freedoms overseas, and for that we will make sure their legacy is not forgotten.

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Every year, without fail, their names are read aloud to remember the sacrifices they have made. Reading the names is a tradition that will live on long after we have all left, as our duty to never forget continues and our work will never be finished.

Thick smoke rises from the area behind the Statue of Liberty, lower left, where the World Trade Center used to be, on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.

Thick smoke rises from the area behind the Statue of Liberty, lower left, where the World Trade Center used to be, on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.
(TBEN Photo/Daniel Hulshizer)

There is a quote sometimes attributed to Ernest Hemingway that said, “Every man dies twice, when he is buried in the ground and the last time a man says his name. In some ways, men can be immortal.” This feeling reflects what the Tunnel to Towers Foundation is all about. We work tirelessly every day to ensure that those who died on 9/11, the men and women who lost their lives fighting for our freedoms, and those who suffered or died as a result of 9/11- related diseases, have been immortalized. Our primary responsibility is to ensure that their names are never forgotten and that their memory lives on through the work we do.

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When faced with adversity, they united to support each other, to love each other. Born out of this tragedy was the Tunnel to Towers Foundation. We operate on the belief that while we are here, with the time we have left, it is our responsibility to help others. In the words of St. Francis of Assisi, “Brothers, while we have time, let us do good.”