Today we take a moment to honor the lives lost twenty years ago today — on September 11, 2001 — by sharing some of the ways those lives have continually been honored through individuals who have walked, run and even climbed to remember. To never forget.
In recent weeks, former flight attendant Paul “Paulie” Veneto’s has been pushing an airline beverage cart from Boston’s Logan Airport to Ground Zero in New York City as a literal moving tribute to the flight attendants and crew members killed. During his walk, he has been joined for various legs of the journey by local first responders, residents, and those who cheer him on as they recall the tragedy. He’s calling his walk, Paulie’s Push.
Veneto says: “I am doing this because I want these crew members’ families to know how courageous they were that day. I want the public to understand that under those conditions that morning, what those crew members did, nobody could have trained for. They really need to be recognized as Heroes. They were the very first First Responders.”
In 2001, Veneto was regularly assigned to United Airlines Flight 175 out of Boston, but on September 11, he was not among those of his colleagues assigned to that Tuesday morning flight.
“I knew that crew because we worked together,” Veneto told Newsweek recently.
That morning, “my phone started buzzing with people calling me. My family didn’t know if I was on the plane or not, because people who knew me, knew that 175 was a flight I normally worked. It was surreal, like an out-of-body experience. I was in shock. I felt that no matter where I was, I was alone.”
“That day sent me into a tailspin of opiate addiction that almost cost me my life. I loved working with those people. I guess it was survivor’s guilt. After almost 15 years of numbing myself out from the thoughts of that day, I have finally been freed from addiction since 2015. I can now finally give tribute to my fallen crew members.”
Veneto began training for it and embarked on August 21, heading directly across Eastern and Southwestern Connecticut. The journey began with a pause at Logan Airport’s 9/11 Memorial, which bears the names of those who died on the two planes that left Boston and crashed into the World Trade Center two decades ago.
“On top of the cart I have a photo of the United Airlines flight attendants from both planes and on the sides of the cart I have the names and details of the flights from both United Airlines flights and both American Airlines that day.”
“I made a promise to myself five days after 9/11 that I would make sure that they weren’t forgotten and that they were recognized for their heroism. I’m now doing what I promised myself, so that all their families and relatives can see them honored for what they accomplished that day. I’m doing what they would have done for me.”
THE 9/11 MEMORIAL STAIR CLIMB
The urge to “do” something to remember lives lost is also what motivates the 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb, which pays tribute each year to FDNY firefighters by climbing or walking the equivalent of the 110 stories of the World Trade Center.
Over the past two decades, hundreds of these walks have been organized around the country — and thousands of walkers have climbed or walked the equivalent of the 110 stories of the World Trade Center. Eachh individual tribute not only remembers the sacrifice of an FDNY brother, but symbolically completes their heroic journey to save others.
These 9/11 Memorial Stair Climbs help the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation create and maintain programs that support fire service survivors. Your support of the 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb events provides assistance to the surviving families and co-workers of the 343 firefighters who made the ultimate sacrifice on September 11, 2001.
TUNNEL TO TOWERS
Another organization that has ”put one foot in front of the other” to continue to honor the victims of 9/11 is Tunnel to Towers.
Frank Siller remembers, “We were all walking, I mean to get through those days in the beginning was just like unbearable.” For the past two decades, Siller has continued to put one foot in front of another to cope with the pain of the loss. But this year — “because it was the 20th year since 9/11, I wanted to do something unique and special in honor of my brother and all those who perished in 9/11.”
As the chairman and CEO of the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, Frank Siller has constantly kept the memory of his brother Stephen alive.
Stephen Siller had just gotten off duty from his Brooklyn firehouse when the first plane flew into the World Trade Center. He sped toward Manhattan, and when he found the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel closed to traffic, he strapped on 60 pounds of gear and ran through the tunnel to the twin towers and was among the 343 New York City firefighters killed when the towers collapsed.
“He came out of the tunnel and saw two buildings that were hit and on fire, he saw that horrific scene and ran into, we believe the South tower and while saving lives gave up his own,” Siller said.
That sacrifice was the inspiration for the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, which builds custom smart homes for catastrophically injured combat veterans and pays off the mortgages of first responders killed that day.
To mark the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Siller is walking “from the Pentagon to Shanksville to Ground Zero, three places where there was so much loss of life 20 years ago.”
The Tunnel to Towers Never Forget Walk was conceived to raise money and awareness.
“Part of the purpose of this journey is so these young parents talk to their kids about what happened 20 years ago, we’re going to shine a big light on what happened 20 years ago and we don’t want it to happen again so American families don’t have to live through what we lived through and American lived through.”
Siller has walked 550 miles through six states, with parades and ceremonies at several stops along the way, and different people him joining him almost every day.
“A few days I’ve walked by myself, which I love as well because it gives me a lot of time to reflect why I’m doing this and of course I’m thinking about my brother the whole time. It’s been really a spiritual journey.”
Tunnel to Towers is based on the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi: “Brothers and sisters while we have time, let us do good.” We’re going to deliver 200 mortgage-free homes this year. There’ll never be another police officer or firefighter or service member who dies in the line of duty that has a young family that we don’t take care of. That is our promise and we’re going to keep it.”
This week, the Never Forget Walk will keep Siller on a schedule that has him arriving at the Sept. 11th memorial on the 20th anniversary of the attacks.
“I’ll be with my children and my grandchildren, be with my wife who has been my great supporter for these 20 years, allowing me to put all of my time and energy into this great foundation. And of course, I’ll be with my nephews and nieces and brothers and sisters and Stephen’s children. So, it’s going to be a very impactful walk the last day or two for sure.”
OTHER MEMORIAL WALKS
Google 9/11 walks, and you may be surprised to find how many people have turned to walks to remember the lives lost on 9/11.
And, as each of us walks today, let us hold in our hearts all those whose lives were lost or forever changed on 9/11.