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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — For more than a decade, Frank Siller has been trying to honor the memory of his brother, a New York firefighter killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
Along with family members, he created a foundation that not only remembers Stephen Siller’s legacy of helping others, but also builds homes for U.S. veterans who have lost multiple limbs in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Now the foundation is ready to roll out a mobile museum that will serve as a reminder of the sacrifice made that day by firefighters and by military members since then.
“It was a life-changing day for many Americans. You remember where you were that day,” Siller said.
But he’s worried that what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, is not being taught in schools.
That’s where the mobile museum comes in, said John Hodge, Siller’s cousin and director of operations for the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation.
The 53-foot expandable trailer, which houses specially selected artifacts donated by New York firehouses, will travel all over the country. When stationary, the trailer will open into 1,000 square feet of space and offer a detailed look at what happened on Sept. 11.
The foundation on Friday offered an early look at the museum, which is being designed by Specialized Mobile Exhibits in Mooresville.
“We’re excited about this because we know that 9/11 by and large is just not being taught in the schools throughout the United States right now,” Hodge said. “It may be a little paragraph or a small mention in history books. But it didn’t happen that long ago and … we are concerned that people are starting to forget.”
Hodge and Siller began discussing the idea of creating a mobile exhibit about two years ago.
“We sat down first and put together the arc of the story. How we wanted to tell the story in that tight space,” he said. “We’re going to do it very visually. All the walls will have full-sized pictures, images, murals of what happened.”
As people enter the multimedia exhibit, they will see how the World Trade Center was built. And by the time they get to the middle of the museum, they will view a series of panels telling the story of what happened on Sept. 11. Then a section will show the aftermath and recovery in the days following the terrorist attack, which killed more than 2,700 people, including 343 New York firefighters.
The last section of the exhibit will focus on Stephen Siller’s story.
“We always say that Stephen is just an example of the heroism that took place that day,” Hodge said.
Stephen Siller, the father of five, was off-duty and on his way to play golf with his brothers. When he heard what was happening at the World Trade Center, he stopped his vehicle at the Brooklyn entrance of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, which was closed to traffic. He strapped on 60 pounds of gear and ran through the 1.7-mile-long tunnel to get to the World Trade Center.
He was last seen with fellow firefighters saving lives inside the South Tower before it collapsed. His body was never found.
Stephen Siller came from a tight-knit family. The youngest of seven siblings, they helped raise him, especially after both parents died.
“For us, he wasn’t only a brother, he also was a son,” Frank Siller said. “He became this vibrant young man who showed us all that you can overcome heartaches and loss and still go out and be a productive human being. And that’s what he did.”
The mobile museum will make its debut this Sept. 11 at the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville. The ribbon cutting will take place at exactly 9:59 a.m. — the moment the South Tower fell.
Hodge said he’s booked the museum at other venues, including Heinz Field in Pittsburgh for a Pittsburgh Steelers football game on Sept. 8, and the Georgia Dome for an Atlanta Falcons contest on Sept. 15.
The admission is free, but people can donate money at the end of the tour.