By Olivia Yepez
With sirens and bagpipes, smoke and steel, a parade of first responders on Sunday marked the upcoming 20th anniversary of 9/11 in Morristown.
It was one of the final stops on the Never Forget tour, a 537-mile walk from the Pentagon to Shanksville PA to Ground Zero — sites of the terror attacks that claimed nearly 3,000 lives — by the brother of a New York firefighter who died on that crisp Tuesday morning two decades ago.
“This isn’t just a day for somber remembrance,” said Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-11th Dist.), a former Navy helicopter pilot, standing in front of the U.S. flag that flew over the rubble of the Twin Towers.
Never Forget: Video by Kevin Coughlin
Although 9/11 is a solemn milestone, the congresswoman said Sunday was “a day to be happy,” a day “to have joy, as well, for the gift we’ve been given.”
Noting the bouncy house for children attending the post-parade barbecue behind town hall, Sherrill said these youths have not had to live in the shadow of terrorism thanks to sacrifices made by service members and first responders.
Rep. Mikie Sherrill comments. Video by Lee Goldberg:
One of those sacrifices was by Siller’s brother Stephen, a fireman who strapped on 60 pounds of gear and ran through the closed Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the World Trade Center, where he perished.
“I’m thinking of my brother, running through that tunnel,” Siller told the crowd, estimated by Morristown Public Safety Director Michael Corcoran Jr. at between 500 and 1,000 people.
“I believe everyone standing here was put on this earth to serve in some way,” New York Fire Chief Thomas Richardson told spectators. Many waved flags and wore red, white and blue.
“Faith brings hope. Hope brings love. And Frank, what your foundation has been doing for the last several years is love,” Richardson said, turning to Siller, who wore a blue t-shirt with the logo of his brother’s unit, Brooklyn Squad 1.
The Tunnels to Towers Foundation has provided more than 200 mortgage-free homes to families of first responders who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001. The nonprofit plans to expand its efforts to include families of those who have died fighting the War on Terrorism since 9/11.
The Tunnel to Towers parade: Video by Lee Goldberg:
Siller thanked the New York City firefighters who have accompanied him during the 42 days of his walk, and he asked first responders and veterans to stand before the stage to be recognized.
“I’m asking for a pledge from everybody out there: That you join the Tunnels to Towers Foundation in our mission, in our promise,” Siller told the crowd.
“We promise that when any one of these great heroes, or anybody that serves across our great country, if you go out there to protect our country, to protect our communities, and you give your kids a kiss goodbye and you don’t come home: We are going to take care of you. We are going to give you a mortgage-free home. Will you join us on this mission?” Siller said, to cheers.
He then directed attendees to move to the right of the stage for the unveiling of Never Forget, a multi-media sculpture by Scott LoBaido.
As bagpipes played and a gentle drizzle fell, some onlookers teared up as smoke wafted from a machine at the base of sculpted girders, resembling the columns from the World Trade Center wreckage.
Life-sized figures of a New York firefighter and policeman knelt beneath a tattered American flag caught in the frame above them.
A mobile exhibit displayed artifacts and video clips from 9/11. A listing of New York firefighters who died that day, and from illnesses related to that day, stretched from the ceiling to the floor.
Families could pose by an antique fire truck, and New York firefighters volunteered on the barbecue line.
Bringing up the rear: Video by Lee Goldberg:
At the end of the event, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and his former police commissioner, Bernard Kerik, were seen mingling in the crowd.
Giuliani signed autographs and posed for pictures with fans and local police. Now former President Trump’s personal attorney, he was dubbed “America’s Mayor” after 9/11.
He is reportedly under federal investigation for his dealings with Ukraine and Turkey during Trump’s re-election campaign. Giuliani has a talk show on a New York radio station that was a co-sponsor of Sunday’s event.
Kerik served time in federal prison for ethics violations. He was pardoned by President Trump, and has endorsed Trump’s false claims that he won the 2020 election.
Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin. Click/hover on images for captions:
Kevin Coughlin contributed to this report.