On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, 34-year-old New York City firefighter Stephen Siller raced on foot through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel with 65 pounds of gear strapped to his back. He was headed for the World Trade Center, where he would lose his life along with 343 other firefighters, about 70 of whom were, like Stephen, off-duty.
On Thursday, the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation brought its mobile museum outside the Raleigh Convention Center to remind citizens of the horrors and sacrifices that occurred on 9/11.
“So many people had talked about seeing Stephen as he ran through the tunnel,” said Lisa Bender, the foundation’s regional director. “So many people did so many heroic things that day that he kind of became that symbol of what people were willing to do for their fellow New Yorkers, for their fellow man.”
The foundation, founded in 2002 by Siller’s six siblings, runs multiple initiatives to aid others. Those projects are showcased in the mobile exhibit, which is housed in a converted NASCAR trailer. It features artifacts, audio recordings, news footage and a screen running the names of all 2,977 people lost that day.
Built in Mooresville, the museum was first unveiled in Fayetteville on Sept. 11, 2013. The exhibit is free and primarily educational.
“It’s a great opportunity to come in here with your children to start a discussion about a day that changed the world,” Bender said.
A tour of the exhibit was led Thursday by retired Battalion Chief Jack Oehm, who was also off-duty that day but helped recover bodies and materials from the debris at Ground Zero.
“We bring it all over the country to spread the word and keep people remembering what happened to us on that tragic day. ... If you forget your past, you’re bound to repeat it,” Oehm said. “We never want to let that happen to us again.”
The main room features steel from the World Trade Center refashioned into a memorial honoring a squad of 12 men who died in a tower collapse. Twelve crosses were cut out of the steel and one was given to each of their families.
In a second room, a picture shows a young soldier lying on a gurney in a helicopter bearing a tattoo that reads, “For those I love I will sacrifice.”
“Heroism and service and sacrifice like with our military and our first responders happens every day of the year,” Bender said. “And most of us are lucky we can be ignorant, because it means we haven’t suffered because they’re here.”