Tunnel to Towers Never Forget Walk stops in Easton, PA on way to NYC for 20th Anniversary of 9/11
Patriot artist Scott Lobaido unveils powerful sculpture
EASTON, Pa – On September 4, Frank Siller, brother of firefighter Stephen Siller, and Chairman and CEO of The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation made a stop in Easton, PA on his way to New York City in commemoration of the 20th Anniversary of 9/11.
Artist, Scott LoBaido, is also traveling with the foundation and unveils his very moving sculpture, created to honor those first responders that lost their lives saving others that day, at each stop along the way.
On August 1, Siller and his family hosted a private wreath-laying ceremony at the Pentagon and then kicked off the Never Forget Walk, honoring the fallen of 9/11, the heroism of first responders, and in commemoration of the 20th anniversary.
The 537-Mile Walk began at Arlington Fire Station 5 in Virginia, and the route takes him through six states in six weeks.
From Washington, D.C., they made stops in Virginia, Maryland, Shanksville, PA, Hershey and Easton, PA, then on to Morristown, NJ and Staten Island, NY, culminating with Siller tracing his brother’s steps through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to Ground Zero on 9/11.
For those unfamiliar with Stephen Siller, on September 11, 2001, he was a NY firefighter assigned to Brooklyn’s Squad 1. He had just finished his shift when he got word of the north tower being hit by a plane and returned to get his gear.
When he arrived at the entrance to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, it had already been closed for security purposes, so he strapped his 60 pounds of gear to his back and ran through the tunnel on foot to get to the twin towers, where he lost his life-saving others.
We had the opportunity to speak with Frank Siller and Scott LoBaido. Both mentioned they are concerned that young people, who were not alive at the time of the tragic incident, are not learning about it properly. In addition to all the good they do, one of their missions is to educate our youth about 9/11 history and to make sure America never forgets.
We asked Mr. Siller what he would tell the young people that weren’t around during the 9/11 attacks twenty years ago. He said he would tell them to emulate what he saw from the young people in the area on Saturday. They “lined up, marched, sing God Bless America, pipes and drums …it was just so moving.”
“Young Americans, if they’re told about what happened on 9/11, they will sit up and take notice, and I am so happy when I see – and I saw hundreds upon hundreds of them out here today – so this is why I’m doing this walk…we gotta get the message to the young Americans. They don’t even know, because they’re not teaching it in school, so we are. We’re going to teach it everywhere we go,” Siller said.
On Saturday morning, the event began with a prayer service, then a short parade through town, which included Lehigh Valley area first responders, veteran and community groups, and the Easton Area High School Red Rover Marching Band.
The parade ended at Centre Square for a brief program. A beautiful rendition of the National Anthem was sung by Easton native and Broadway star, Dee Roscioli, before various speakers took to the podium to pay tribute to those lost twenty years ago, with specific mention of several who grew up in the College Hill section of Easton.
Colleen Supinski was 27-years-old when she worked as an assets trader on the 104th floor of 2 World Trade Center in 2001. Claudia Lucia DePamphilis Morris was an NYC police officer who worked at Ground Zero after the attacks. She died on June 2 of this year, at the age of 56, from 9/11-related cancer.
Easton’s Mayor Sal Panto was among those who shared memories and spoke of hopes for a positive future, and a check for $100,000 was presented to the foundation from the Star auto dealerships in the area.
During his comments, the master of ceremonies retired NYC Fire Department Battalion Chief, and executive board member of the foundation, John LaBarbera, said, “The Siller family did not want to stay consumed in the darkness and the tragedy but chose instead to honor the heroic sacrifices that were made by all 2,977 lives lost that day.”
LaBarbera drew the audience’s attention to a giant American flag hanging at the back of the stage, explaining it was flown at Ground Zero during the recovery efforts in the weeks and months that followed. “This flag is used by our members who die from 9/11 illness, and it attends each and every one of their wakes and funerals,” he said.
The ceremony became emotional when the family of slain NYPD officer Miosotis Familia spoke. Familia was a single mother of three who was assassinated in 2017 while on duty in the Bronx.
Her eldest daughter, Genesis Villella, was accompanied by her 16-year-old twin siblings, Peter and Delilah Vega. Villella was twenty years old at the time of her mother’s death and has raised her siblings since then. Siller’s foundation has provided the family with a mortgage-free home.
Through tears, Villella told the crowd, “My mom was a New York City police officer who was assassinated in the line of duty for the blue uniform that she wore. My mother was shot in the head for representing the greatest police department in the world.”
Villella said they are “so grateful,” stating, “The Tunnel to Towers Foundation has been a lifeline for my family…ever since that dark day on July 5, 2017, when my mother was killed.” “They have been here for us, and they will be there, and they keep their promise and their vows to never forget the heroes that laid down their lives in the line of duty,” she said.
Familia’s death was not 9/11 related. Although the foundation has always helped the families of first responders who died on 9/11 or of related illnesses, it has expanded its mission to include paying off mortgages, or providing mortgage-free homes, to the families of military and first responders who die in the line of duty, leaving behind young families.
Towards the end of his speech, Siller said, “I’m going to ask you to join us on our mission of doing good…And let’s make a promise as Americans, this is the promise I want you to make; That when our men and women go out and serve our country, or our men and women go out to serve our communities, and they give their kids a kiss goodbye, and they don’t come home, we have got to take care of them. We are going to give them – and deliver them – a mortgage-free home.”
When Siller concluded, he called all those in attendance who currently serve, or have served, in the military, or as first responders, to the front of the stage so that the audience could acknowledge them.
He then directed everyone’s attention to the other side of the area where patriot artist Scott Lobaido was waiting to unveil his commemorative sculpture.
LoBaido is traveling along with the foundation and unveiling his sculpture at each of the stops. He was kind enough to take the time to talk to us. We asked what he wanted people to know about the day.
LoBaido said part of being patriotic is helping people, which he has been doing for decades. There are huge murals of the American flag in many states, and he donates other smaller pieces to be auctioned off for charity.
He explained it was advice from his parents that guided him in his philosophy. “My mom always said, ‘do whatever you want in your life as long as you believe it in your heart, and always take care of the less fortunate.’” Adding, “My dad’s advice was, ‘take sh*t from nobody,’ so I got that yin yang.”
LoBaido has been with the organization since the beginning. “It’s just spectacular…and I watched a handful of people grow into this beautiful beast of doing good…It’s what it’s all about.”
Like Siller, LoBaido worries that our schools aren’t teaching enough about 9/11, saying, “and if they are, they’re changing the narrative, which, you know, it’s the nature of the new beast, with this society and this cancel culture, politically correct insanity – I don’t want to get into that because we’re talking about this positive moment.”
He says he loves his flag, veterans, and military “because I’m the guy, who they fought for, this crazy artist, to do what I want. And so I like to pay it forward.” He also mentioned that on September 12, 2001, we were all united and he would like to get that back.
This year, Tunnel to Towers plans on providing 200 mortgage-free homes to the families of those who have lost their lives in service to their communities or our country.
Siller and his entourage are covering a lot of miles. In the process, they are not only helping the families of the fallen, they are giving those of us in their path that feeling of unity we have been longing for, if but for a few short hours.
Never, ever, forget.
Originally published on Citizen Stringer September 7, 2021