Carmela Raguso, widow of an FDNY firefighter and service member killed in Iraq, stood proud at the finish line Sunday as runners scaled the World Trade Center’s 104 flights to honor those who died on 9/11 or in the wars that followed.
“All of these people exhibit a lot of Chris’s qualities of perseverance and helping others that make them the ultimate first responders,’’ said Raguso, 37, whose husband, Chris Raguso, died in a 2018 helicopter crash in Iraq while serving with the Air National Guard.
Raguso and Rebecca Briggs, 33, of Port Jefferson Station on Long Island, whose husband, Sgt. Dashan Briggs, also died after the HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter struck a steel cable and crashed, served as honorary starters Sunday for the 5th annual Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation climb.
A tattoo on Briggs’s left arm immortalizes her family’s loss. Briggs’ ink depicts the soft faces of lion cubs who represent the couples two children, and her husband’s dog tags draped with larkspur flowers. The tattoo also includes Dashan Briggs’ July birthday flower and the infant footprints of their son, Jayden, 4, and daughter, Ava, 2.
“We try to honor my husband because you never stop thinking about it,’’ said Briggs, who left her career as an accountant to study nursing after her husband’s death. “I want to do more and give back and set an example for my children … that is what Dashan always said.’’
Along with Dashan Briggs and Chris Raguso, a master sergeant, the crash took the lives of five other U.S. service members, including four from the 106th Rescue Wing of the New York Air National Guard in Westhampton Beach.
Sunday’s event, expected to raise about $500,000, takes its name from Stephen Stiller, an FDNY firefighter killed on Sept. 11, 2001. Nearly 1,000 climbers have participated in the early dawn race each year.
Since the 9/11 attacks, the foundation has raised about $120 million pay to off approximately 50 mortgages that average $300,000 each and build 75 mortgage-free “smart homes” accessible for injured service personnel who lost limbs in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Stephen Siller’s sister, Mary Siller Scullin, said the foundation has expanded its reach to military families because “we want people to know that the great souls that were lost on 9/11 live on through the good deeds that have happened since.’’
The foundation helped the families of NYPD police officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, who were gunned down in 2014 by a shooter who killed himself. Last year, the foundation honored and gave financial aid to the families of the two teachers killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting in Parkland, Florida.
For Carmela Raguso, living mortgage-free has given her “peace of mind. My girls and I can stay in our home and know nothing else has to change.’’
When she curls up on the couch with her daughters, Mila, 7, and Eva, 6, to watch TV, “I feel then that we are safe and together — those are my moments.’’