Frank Siller talks to me by phone in a clear, strong voice as he makes his way by foot across the state of Pennsylvania. For a man who’s walking through six states in six weeks—a total of 537 miles in all, from August 1, 2021 to September 11, 2021—he doesn’t sound tired at all. Instead, he sounds positively energized.
On the morning that we speak, he’s already trekked more than halfway to his destination. He had left Shanksville just days earlier, on August 21, where he took part in a ceremony to honor the 40 hero passengers and crew members of Flight 93 who gave their life for others on 9/11. “I was with a lot of other 9/11 family members in Shanksville. It’s a day I’ll never forget. It was very moving, to say the least,” Siller says of the ceremony there.
Now, step by step on this hot summer day, Siller is headed for Hershey, which he plans to reach on August 28 by walking roughly 15 miles a day, as he’s been doing since he started. From Hershey, he’ll continue walking through Pennsylvania, into and across New Jersey, then into the borough of Staten Island and up through Brooklyn—before walking through the Hugh Carey (Brooklyn-Battery) Tunnel in lower Manhattan, emerging right near the World Trade Center.
Frank Siller is doing all of this and more in honor of his brother, who was just 34 years old, married and the father of five, when he perished 20 years ago while trying to save others as the Twin Towers fell. It’s in Stephen Siller’s memory that the Siller family created the Tunnel to Towers Foundation in 2002.
On September 11, 2001, firefighter Stephen Siller had just finished his shift with Brooklyn’s Squad 1 when a plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. After calling his wife, Stephen returned to Squad 1 to grab his gear, then drove to the tunnel. By then, it was closed because of security concerns—so Stephen, not hesitating, strapped 60 lbs. of gear onto his back and ran on foot through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel to the Twin Towers. His goal? Both simple and profound. Assist others. His legacy of giving? It will live on forever. This selfless first responder died that morning, along with so many others, as he reached out to people in need.
Frank Siller knows his brother is with him in spirit during this grueling walk. “I prepared well. I prepared for this walk for 15 months because I wanted to succeed on my brother’s behalf, and for so many other 9/11 responders and their families that we’re trying to help,” he says. “So, I feel good.” He adds after a little bit, “Are my legs tired? Do my feet hurt? Yes, sometimes. But I’m focused on making sure that America never forgets our 9/11 first responders and the sacrifices that they and so many others made for us. We want to help their families as much as we possibly can. This year, for the 20th anniversary, we’re dedicated to providing 200 mortgage-free homes to the families of fallen first responders. And then another 200 homes next year, and the year after that, and the year after that. And in order to do that, we need the help of others.”
During our lively conversation, as CEO Frank Siller continued to make his way through the Keystone State for such a worthy cause, CNJ asked him three questions:
Question #1: How much does faith play a role in what you do?
Frank Siller: “Faith is a foundation. It’s the most important thing. Faith plays a role in everything I do and in everything the Foundation does. For my siblings and me, our faith has always been our guiding light, through all our decisions.”
Prominent for the Siller family, he explains, is a particular phrase from St. Francis of Assisi, something he and his six siblings heard often from their parents, George and Mae Siller, lay Franciscans who raised their children as devout Catholics: “’Brothers and sisters, while we have time, let us do good.’ And of course, there’s the Prayer of Peace, which is powerful from St. Francis as well.” [“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace / Where there is hatred, let me sow love …”]
It is no wonder, with this underpinning of deep faith and great kindness toward others, that the family founded the Tunnel to Towers Foundation to honor fallen or injured first responders and help out as many family members as possible with mortgage-free homes, smart homes, and more. The remaining five Siller siblings—they lost another brother, Russell, in 2019—together decide on the direction for the Foundation. “Any major decisions we make have to be unanimous,” says Siller. “This is a testament to our parents, who always wanted us to stay together as a family.”
Question #2: What do you wish for America right now?
FS: “I wish, that in all the decisions we make, that we keep God in mind. If we do that, there will be less friction in our country. That’s a fact. And we need to be more tolerant of each other, even though people don’t agree. I also know that most Americans love our country. And the proof of that, right now, is that the whole country wants to get all those Americans back who are still over in Afghanistan and who went there to help us win the War on Terror. We want them to return home to America. I would like us to always keep America in our minds, first and foremost.”
Question #3: Where you will be on the morning of Sept. 11, 2021, as the nation remembers all those we lost on the 20-year anniversary of the terror attacks?
FS: “On 9/11, that morning, I will be walking through the same tunnel that my brother ran through [20 years ago], when he was carrying 60 pounds of gear on his back. And I’ll be coming through that tunnel as the sun rises, and I’ll be heading for the firehouse right at Ground Zero, where I’ll meet up with other family members and with firefighters. And I will say a prayer, in a most respectful way, for my brother and for all those who sacrificed so much on 9/11, and remember them. And I will know that day, as I know now, that it is a great honor to help others, to help the families of fallen first responders, and to take some of the burden off them by doing what we do—by doing good and honoring the sacrifice of others. I hope others can join with us and help out, too.”
To learn more about the Tunnel to Towers Foundation and its programs, including its Fallen First Responder Home Program, go to its website, t2t.org. Tunnel to Towers is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
Maureen Mackey is a writer, editor, web content executive, and regular contributor to CNJ.