For Frank Siller, chairman and CEO of the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, the memories of Sept. 11, 2001 – the date his firefighter brother was killed in the line of duty – are far from fading.
“We knew right away we had to do something to honor what my little brother did,” Siller told The Tablet. “We didn’t know that it was going to just grow like this.”
Siller spoke to The Tablet at a time when Congress is considering a bill to authorize funding for the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund, a federally funded program that compensates victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Congress last authorized funding for the program in 2015 for use until 2020, but that money is running out.
Under the current bill, Congress would approve an unspecified amount of funding for the program until 2090. The bill cleared the House Judiciary Committee on June 12. It now awaits a vote before the full House of Representatives. If passed by the House, the bill would then go to the U.S. Senate and eventually to President Trump.
Siller told The Tablet that “it would be hard for Congress not to pass it” unanimously. “It’s most certainly the right thing to do,” he said.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Siller’s younger brother Stephen had just finished his shift in Brooklyn when he received word that the North Tower of the World Trade Center was hit by a plane. Stephen ran through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel (now the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel) with 60 pounds of gear to help battle the blaze at the Twin Towers, where in trying to save others he lost his own life.
The Sillers, who are Catholic, wanted to do something to honor the sacrifice Stephen made, and so they formed Tunnel to Towers Foundation in December 2001. The foundation has raised $100 million to offer financial assistance nationwide to families of firefighters and police officers who lost their lives on their jobs. It also helps injured veterans.
Every September, the foundation holds the Tunnel to Towers 5K Run and Walk to raise money. The race starts in near the entrance of the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel and ends at the Freedom Tower. Thousands make the same run through the same tunnel that Stephen did. The foundation also sponsors other fundraising events in New York and throughout the country.
“If the 1 percent serve, it’s up to the 99 percent to take care of them. I think it’s a small price for us to pay,” Frank Siller said. “This is not charity –when we ask for a monthly donation, it’s because we owe it to them. People have to look at it like that.”
Siller, who lives in Staten Island, says that, along with praying and following the news about the VCF legislation, Catholics should push Congress to pass the VCF bill.
“You gotta pray for certain things, but you have to do certain things … As a Catholic who cherishes life from conception, we have to take care of each other when somebody dies for us, just like our Savior did,” Siller said.
“When my brother gave up his life on September 11, he didn’t care who he was saving – he was saving God’s children. And I think we have to remember that when we ask somebody to do that, we’ve got to take action and take care of their families after.
“I don’t think it’s so hard to do, to support and take care of our Church and her people,” Siller said. “Without our men and women in uniform, we cannot be successful here as a country, so we better take care of them first so we have the beautiful things we have because of them.”