After the National September 11th Memorial announced major changes to this year’s commemoration due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a nonprofit group dedicated to a firefighter who died on 9/11 says it will step up to keep two important traditions going.
The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation announced that it will hold a public renaming of all 2,977 victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks next month on the 19th anniversary of the day of infamy. Additionally, the nonprofit’s boss, Frank Siller, told WCBS-AM radio that the organization will also support a light display on 9/11 to substitute for the canceled “Tribute in Light.”
“We’re going to make sure that those beautiful lights that represent the loss of life of 2,977 brave souls 19 years ago, they will be illuminating the skies on Sept. 11 this year to make sure that we pay tribute to all those who perished that fateful day,” Siller told WCBS 880 Newsradio. “It’s going to be on Sept. 11, we’re going to have almost an identical location of where they are every single year. It will look almost identical of what you’ve seen every single year. It’s going to be a magnificent tribute to those who died.”
The statements did not indicate any affiliation with the National September 11th Memorial in its efforts. According to a spokesperson for the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, the nonprofit will hold the name-reading and light tribute independent of the memorial.
The spokesperson said the Tunnel to Towers’ light tribute plan, called “Towers in Light,” came together just within the last 24 hours since the 9/11 Memorial canceled the Tribute in Light. The logistics of the new light display are still in the works.
On Thursday, the National September 11th Memorial announced it would not hold this year’s Tribute in Light due to concerns about the pandemic. It takes a team of at least 30 individuals several weeks of working together, in close contact, to set up the tribute, which represents the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center destroyed in the attacks.
The 9-11 Memorial previously announced it would forego an on-site reading of the victims’ names this Sept. 11 during the annual memorial ceremony, also due to COVID-19 concerns.
The decision to cancel the Tribute in Light evoked criticism from many, including the Uniformed Firefighters Association (UFA), a group representing members of the Fire Department, which lost 343 members on 9/11.
“The first responders and New Yorkers who have lived through September 11, 2001, and now persevered through the coronavirus pandemic, are feeling betrayed,” said UFA President Andrew Ansbro. “I haven’t spoken to a single tradesman that isn’t ready and willing to work — especially, to complete the honor of lighting the sky on the anniversary of the darkest day in American history. These are more than light beams displayed once a year — they are beams of solace for a still-grieving nation and the literal embodiment of ‘never forget.’
But the Tunnel to Towers Foundation indicated Friday that it will work to keep both a light tribute and the name reading as part of this year’s commemoration of the terrorist attacks.
“Every year, we honor those we’ve lost on September 11, 2001, by reading their names at Ground Zero. This year, amidst our hardships and obstacles, we will not forget them,” according to a statement on the nonprofit’s website. “Tunnel to Towers is making every effort to ensure the health and safety of this year’s readers. All 140 speakers will wear masks and practice social distancing.”
The charity is named for Firefighter Stephen Siller, who died while responding to the 9/11 attacks. Originally off-duty, he ran through the closed Brooklyn-Battery (Hugh Carey) Tunnel in full firefighter gear to get to the World Trade Center. The organization holds the annual Tunnel to Towers 5K in his memory, raising funds for 9/11 victims’ families and the city’s first responders.