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Honoring supreme sacrifice

Veteran's Corner

There are a number of civilian and military oriented organizations out there soliciting funds for various causes. My choice organization is the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, created by Frank Siller to honor his brother Stephen, an off duty FDNY (Fire Department of New York) firefighter who on Sept. 11, 2001, donned his 60-pound personal equipment and ran through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the Twin Towers where he gave up his life, saving many of those trapped within, after the terrorist attacks. 

Tragically, almost 3,000 working within and too many first responders died that day — first responders going above and beyond the call of duty — constantly re-entering the inferno of the World Trade Center towers to save numerous lives. It was selfless heroism. The towers eventually imploded, killing nearly all in the immediate vicinity. Many FDNY and NYPD were still in there, doing their jobs — even the FDNY chaplain died that day.

I recall that morning vividly: I was departing Millerton for Brewster when the initial jet impaled the first tower. I tuned in my car radio, hearing mayhem being reported on the radio news. Shortly thereafter I heard of the strike on the second tower. Later, there were reports of the Pentagon being attacked and then the news of the plane going down in Shanksville, Pa., a strike intended for the White House that was thwarted by heroic passengers who gave up their lives to save countless others. 

All air traffic in the U.S. was suspended. Commercial planes were ordered to ground at the nearest airports. F15 and F16 fighter jets flew high cover with orders to shoot down any commercial plane not complying, according to the news reports. 

“I sure wouldn’t want to be a pilot with that responsibility,” I thought.

I was told to shut down operations at work, send employees home and await further instructions. 

It was an eerie trip home, the weather beautiful, in the upper 50s, a sunlit September morning. Traffic was almost non-existent. A couple of cars were on the roads — there were no trucks at all. A 747 jetliner made an extremely low pass over Amenia. It was a terrible awakening to the evil of terrorism and our own complacency. 

Back to Tunnel to Towers: It represents the military, firefighters, police officers and now frontline health workers, many who gave their lives or were wounded in the noble cause of saving and protecting others. Tunnel to Towers builds customized, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant, adaptable, mortgage-free  homes for the immediate family of those who are severely wounded or who have perished fighting to keep this nation safe. 

Their honorable contract states:  “If you don’t return home from duty, your family will be taken care of.” 

I was honored to attend a ceremony of a wounded veteran in Millerton who was on the receiving end of this generosity.  Nothing like this existed in the past. It’s heartening to see the patriotic private sector stepping up and offering such enormous support. It is so important to preserving the honor and integrity of those who have served our nation so valiantly. 

Consider making a donation to www.tunnel2towers.org, or call 1-844-BRAVEST. Now we have Patriot Day on Sept. 11, declared a holiday to commemorate the lives of those who died in the 2001 terrorist attacks. It is a National Day of Service and Remembrance.

God bless you, patriotic readers, and your families. These times, they are a changin’. Stay safe and healthy, enjoy the great outdoors, practice social distancing and take care of one another. Till next time… 

 

Millerton resident Larry Conklin is a Vietnam veteran and a member of both the Millerton American Legion Post 178 in Millerton, N.Y., and the Couch-Pipa VFW Post 6851 in North Canaan, Conn.

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