In wake of tragedy, heroes emerged

By Sam Wildow

swildow@aimmediamidwest.com

MIAMI COUNTY — Miami County is hosting a number of events memorializing the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and local organizations kicked off those events on Friday.

“We’re honored as commissioners and privileged that we were able to get this 9/11 event here in Miami County,” said Miami County Commissioner Ted Mercer, giving a special thanks to Selena Loyd, executive director of the Miami County Veterans Services, for working to bring the Tunnels to Towers 9/11 mobile exhibit to downtown Troy.

“It brings our community together,” Mercer said. “It’s just another cultural thing that we have in Miami County that’s hard to beat. We hope all our people come out and visit it and pay their respects.” Mercer, on behalf of the Miami County Commissioners, said they look forward to seeing everyone.

The Tunnels to Towers 9/11 mobile exhibit opened to visitors on Friday, Sept. 10. It will continue to be on display in front of the Miami County Courthouse from 1 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 11, and from 1 to 7 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 12. The mobile exhibit is free.

The mobile exhibit is a tribute to all those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001, including the 343 members of the Fire Department of New York City (FDNY) who died responding to the attacks.

The 83-foot tractor-trailer turned into a 1,100-square-foot exhibit, providing interactive education to visitors. The exhibit includes artifacts such as steel beams from the towers, documentary videos, and recordings of first responder radio transmissions.

Retired FDNY Firefighter Jim Kielty, one of the guides of the mobile exhibit, said the Tunnels to Towers organization was founded by the family of Stephen Stiller, a FDNY firefighter who lost his life on Sept. 11, 2001. Kielty said Stiller had finished his shift and was on his way to play golf with his three brothers when he heard what was happening at the World Trade Center. Stiller returned, put on 70 pounds of equipment, and ran on foot through gridlocked New York City traffic and a blocked-off Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the World Trade Center, where he would later lose his life.

Tunnels to Towers, in memory of Stiller and other first responders who lost their lives, raises funds to pay off the mortgages of fallen law enforcement officers and firefighters who lose their lives in the line of duty, or to 9/11 related illness, and leave behind young children. The foundation’s goal is to ensure stability and security for these families facing sudden, tragic loss, according to its website at t2t.org.

The Tunnel to Towers Foundation also raises funds to help injured veterans and first responders, as well as Gold Star families. The foundation builds mortgage-free smart homes for injured veterans and first responders to help with their specific needs. The foundation will also pay the mortgages of surviving spouses of military servicepeople who lost their lives while serving in the military.

The Tunnels to Towers 9/11 mobile exhibit included a number of artifacts from the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, including pieces of the equipment from the FDNY rescue companies that perished on that day. The exhibit also included a tribute to FDNY Firefighter Dennis P. O’Berg, one of the firefighters who died as a result of those attacks.

Kielty described how O’Berg’s father, a FDNY lieutenant who was also named Dennis, searched for his son in the months that followed the attacks, joining with other fathers searching for their sons, many of whom were first responders. They became known as the Band of Dads.

“We would rake through every piece,” said Kielty, who also helped with the rescue efforts following the attacks.

The mobile exhibit also sought to educate students about the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, which took place on on Feb. 26, 1993, when a truck bomb detonated below the North Tower of the complex. The bombing killed six people and injured over 1,000 people. The bombing failed to cause the collapse of the towers, which was the goal of the terrorists behind the attack. The perpetrators included Ramzi Yousef, Eyad Ismoil, and a number of co-conspirators, also linked to al-Qaeda.

The mobile exhibit’s display on the 1993 bombing includes a quote from Alan Reiss, of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which read, “Several Port Authority staff members who worked in the 1993 recovery lost their lives on September 11, 2001.”

Additional Sept. 11, 2001, memorial events were held in Miami County on Friday and will continue through Sunday, including at the Miami Valley Veterans Museum and the Miami County Fairgrounds.

At the Miami Valley Veterans Museum, there will be military vehicles on display, and the museum will be open with military re-enactors and other various organizations at booths at the museum as part of its event, “Troops in Town, Then & Now.” Food and a beer garden will be available at the museum. It will be open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 11, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 12.

At the fairgrounds, the Miami County Agricultural Society will be holding “Home Grown Heroes and First Responders Celebration.” There will be live entertainment, family activities, food trucks, fireworks, and a scavenger hunt. The fairgrounds will be open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 11, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 12.

Additionally on Saturday, Sept. 11, there will be a sound off at noon in downtown Troy that will include various agencies from throughout the county to show county unity. Then, at 7 p.m. on Sept. 11, there will be a memorial service held at the mobile exhibit featuring a New York City firefighter.

Free parking and shuttle rides are available at the fairgrounds.

For more details about the 9/11 events, visit www.homegrowngreat.com.