Exhibit in Raleigh highlights pain, bravery of 9/11

lbonner@newsobserver.comSeptember 21, 2013 

Chris Smith holds his daughter Sydney Smith, 6, as they watch a television recording from the morning of September 11, 2001 inside of the Tunnel To Towers Foundation 9/11 Mobile Museum Saturday, September 21, 2013 in at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. Sydney Smith looked at the screen and then turned to her father to ask "Were there people in those buildings? Why did they do that?"

JILL KNIGHT — jhknight@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— A traveling 9/11 memorial that stopped in Raleigh last week is a reminder of the horrific day of terrorist attacks on the United States, but it’s also a lesson in bravery.

The exhibits include melted metal, firefighters’ equipment from crushed trucks and giant photos of the World Trade Center attacks. A recording of emergency transmissions plays in the background. And it is a tribute to Stephen Siller, a New York firefighter, who died in the attack.

Stephen Siller, the youngest of seven siblings, father of five, and an avid golfer, was ending his shift in Brooklyn when he heard about the first crash into the Twin Towers on the scanner. He returned to work, got his gear, and headed toward Manhattan.

The Brooklyn Battery Tunnel was closed to traffic by the time Siller got there, so he ran the rest of the way, his gear strapped to his back. The last anyone can confirm seeing him alive was about a block from the towers. The exhibit includes a twisted sign from Manhattan’s Liberty Street, where one of Siller’s older brothers, George, said Stephen was last seen.

George Siller helps run a foundation called Tunnel to Towers, which for years has sponsored races through the Battery Tunnel to Manhattan that retrace his brother’s footsteps. The races raise money for “smart homes” for soldiers who have lost limbs in war. The races have spread to cities around the country.

Raleigh had its first on Saturday, when about 600 people ran a course around PNC Center. This summer, the foundation rolled out the mobile museum that will travel the country. The museum received its first visitors at Fort Bragg on Sept. 11 of this year. The five-day Raleigh stop concluded Saturday.

“We were feeling they’re not really teaching the 9/11 story in schools,” George Siller said. “We’ll bring this around the country for people who can’t go to New York. It’s important we don’t forget all the people who sacrificed that day.”

The exhibit had adults reliving the emotions of 9/11.

“It brought back a lot of bad memories, unfortunately,” said Carol Berger of Raleigh. “Good people, but bad memories.”

Phyllis and Scott Pangburn drove about 60 miles from Wayne County to the see the exhibit because they think it’s an important to keep the memories alive.

“Everyone has kind of pushed it to the back of their mind,” Phyllis Pangburn said. “This is what people are still fighting for, so it never happens again.”

The exhibit isn’t just about tragedy, but heroism, said Lisa Bender of Henderson, an assistant regional director for the foundation. Stephen Siller and other first responders are examples of people willing to sacrifice for others.

“If the world’s going to be a better place, we’re all responsible for making it that way,” she said. “This celebrates those who respond to the call to duty.”

The exhibit left an impression on visitors born after the attacks.

“It was definitely really sad,” said Joseph Hughes, 10. But he appreciated that people were willing to rush into danger to help those in trouble.

Dan Ross, 11, agreed. “It was a great presentation,” he said. “It was very brave of people to go in and help others.”

George Siller lives around the constant reminders of his brother, though he’ll likely never know where Stephen ended up after he passed Liberty Street.

Stephen Siller’s body was never found.

“They found nothing of him,” George Siller said. “For so many people, that’s their burial ground. That’s where they are.”

Bonner: 919-829-4821

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