LOWER MANHATTAN (PIX11) — Twenty-two years later, 9/11 still reverberates for people, especially for family members and loved ones of those who lost their lives at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
On Monday, New York commemorated once again the tragedy that struck the city in 2001, and participants emphasized repeatedly how important it is to keep the anniversary going for future generations.
This year, the traditional ways of mourning and commemorating were part of the 9/11 ceremony at the World Trade Center. The opening drum cadence, as the American flag was brought into the ceremony; a rousing rendition of The Star Spangled Banner; dignitaries, from Vice President Kamala Harris to Governors Kathy Hochul and Phil Murphy, as well as Mayor Eric Adams in attendance; moments of silence signaled by the ringing of a bell were all key elements of the four-hour ceremony.
With this year being yet another with additional 9/11-related losses, Monday had many reminders that 9/11 exists every day for many families, especially those whose loved ones have died after that fateful day from illnesses related to it.
Frank Siller, a well-known activist for 9/11 families and other first responders, said that the tragedy extends far beyond the anniversary.
“It’s 22 years later, and there’s still people dying because of what happened on 9/11,” Siller said, referring to the myriad of 9/11 illnesses that have made thousands of people sick, and have taken the lives of hundreds in the years after Sept. 11, 2001.
Siller is the brother of Stephen Siller, an FDNY firefighter who ran through the Hugh Carey Battery Tunnel wearing his 60 pounds of bunker gear on 9/11 to reach the Twin Towers and help people. Stephen Siller lost his life that day, but Frank Siller channeled his grief into helping others, in his brother’s name. He founded the Tunnel 2 Towers Foundation, which has raised more than $250 million to help buy homes for fallen first responders and military members.
The work is year-round, but Frank Siller says that on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks, the feelings are that much more strong.
“We raised my brother. My parents died when my brother was a little boy. He was orphaned at 10 years old,” Siller said in an interview. “He was as much a son to me as he was a brother. So yes, it is very painful on this day.”
Kathy Cunningham, whose brother, Donald Robertson, perished in the attacks, is on the board of directors of Tunnel 2 Towers, or T2T. She was also one of the people in Monday’s ceremony who read the names of 2,983 people who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, and the Feb. 26, 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.
At the podium during the ceremony, Cunningham said her brother’s name along with the other ones she’d been assigned to read. She also mentioned her fundraising team for T2T and its causes.
“Team Shamrocks, Tunnel to Towers Foundation,” she said in a statement dedicated to her brother. “We choose to carry on as you lived.”
In an interview afterward, she said, “I fundraise year-round, to keep Donny’s memory alive. It’s not just on September 11 and the weeks leading up to it.”
Some of the dedications that each reader of names made to loved ones were as personal as ever.
The brother-in-law of victim Ruben Esquilin, Jr. lovingly called his wife’s only brother “A clown, someone who loved to joke around.”
So much so, he continued, that on his walk into the 9/11 Memorial site, “I was on line, and an acorn hit my head and I know it was you. Ruben, that was absolutely you,” he said, to laughter and applause.
One theme was repeated among family members at the memorial. They said that the yearly ritual needs to remain a key part of mourning, and of life, going forward.
Rebecca Vasquez, who read the name of her brother, Azael Ismael Vasquez, and a list of other names to which she’d been assigned, explained afterward that the annual event is vital. Her children, including her son, who is named after her brother, were with her. “My kids, bringing them here,” Vasquez said, is deeply meaningful. “So that they can see his name and hear mama say his name.”
The brother of 9/11 victim Joseph Michael Giaccone elaborated on the point when he made a dedication to his brother from the podium. “Twenty-two years ago, my brother was murdered here,” he said. “This ceremony is essential. Me and other family members come here every year, because if we hear their names, they are never forgotten, and they never disappear.”