Frank Siller on His Brother Stephen and the Tunnel to Towers Foundation
Sep 11, 2019
RUSH: We don’t have guests on the program very much. When we do, it’s a special thing, and today we’re going to go outside the programming format. I want to welcome to the program Mr. Frank Siller, who is the founder of the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, that’s just doing an amazing body of work for those who were victimized, killed — surviving families — after 9/11, first responders as well. First of all, Frank, welcome. It’s great to have you on the program. So everybody who has been hearing about Tunnel to Towers for a while can get to know you a little bit. You’ve done incredible things. Great to have you here.
SILLER: Thank you so much, Rush, and thank you and Kathryn and all your listeners for what you’ve been doing over the last couple of months. And you’re making a big difference for our foundation, ’cause we’re changing many people’s lives, and I just can’t even thank you enough.
RUSH: Tell us a little bit about your brother, Stephen. I know that he was the youngest of seven kids. He was a firefighter. What happened?
SILLER: Well, Stephen, on 9/11/2001, was on his way home to play golf with myself, my brother George, my brother Russ, and he heard on his radio scanner that the towers were hit. So he just finished his night tour. But he drove back to his firehouse, he got his gear, and went to the mouth of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. For your listeners that don’t know, that’s a tunnel that connects Brooklyn with downtown Manhattan. And that tunnel is almost two miles long. It was closed for security reasons. So, you know what firefighters do, what first responders do: They run towards the fire to save people, and that’s exactly what he did. He strapped 60 pounds of fire gear on his back, ran through the tunnel up West Street and to the South Tower. While he was going up those stairs and saving people — 25,000 people were saved that day, Rush, the greatest rescue mission ever. While he was doing that, he did give up his life.
RUSH: Frank, what is the average salary or the salary range for a New York City firefighter?
SILLER: I think they start the first years — when they’re probies the first five years — somewhere around $50,000. They go up higher every year incrementally. But I will tell you this, that we deal with… You know firsthand ’cause you know we’ve helped 18 other families since you helped us selling those 300,000 shirts, the Betsy Ross shirts. All of these firefighters and police officers all over the country are making 40, $50,000 a year. So you know they’re not doing it to become rich.
RUSH: That’s my point.
RUSH: I mean, they do things… It’s kind of like the military, in a sense. They do things that very few other people volunteer to do. They put themselves in harm’s way on purpose, like you said. He was going in. He wasn’t trying to get out, and all of his compadres were doing the same thing, and they face death every time they go out on a call, and they really are not paid that much. Now, firefighters do have the opportunity for second, third jobs because it’s, you know, a lot of time on, a lot of time off. But still, it’s a tremendous commitment.
I’ve always thought, after living in New York City and… I remember a particular fire. At the end of a fire, they were going in to clear out debris, and the building blew up and a bunch of them lost their lives. It was a total shock and surprise. It was not terrorism or anything. It was just one of the quirks of the fire. That’s when it hit me just how serious they are, what a great job — risky, dangerous job — they do that other people just take for granted that they’re gonna be there when there’s a fire. You know, seven kids. What were you doing? What is your line of work?
SILLER: Well, I was in retail business, and I also built some homes. I was a spot builder. And that is why when we started the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, and we started to build these smart homes for our country’s catastrophically injured service members, I wasn’t afraid to take that on because I had some background in building. To be quite frank with you, Rush, today at 9:59 — when, 18 years ago, the South Tower fell, when I lost my brother. Today, what we did was we gave two houses away to catastrophically injured service members.
One in Pennsylvania and one in Maryland, to make sure that we take a moment that was so horrific and we did something that’s so good to make sure they can’t let people know that always goodness triumphs over evil, and that’s what we’re all about at the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, turning something so bad… People’s lives changed in an instant. You know, Gold Star families, 7,000 men and women have died since 9/11. Seven thousand!
And you know, we gotta take care of these families. You know, we gotta make a contract. Americans gotta say, “If you’re gonna go protect me overseas or wherever, and you die in the line of duty, we’re gonna take care of your family,” and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do at the Tunnel to Towers Foundation: Make sure we have that contract with men and women in uniform and our first responders. And, you know what? We’re doing it, but we have to do a hell of a lot more.
RUSH: We’re speaking with Frank Siller of the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, who lost his youngest brother in 9/11. How old was Stephen on that day?
SILLER: Stephen was 34 years old. He was a father of five.
RUSH: Father of five!
SILLER: Father of five. And, listen, Rush, when he was 10 years old, our parents passed away, and he was raised by his older siblings. He’s one of seven, like you said when you first came on, but he was much younger than all of us. He’s like a son to me and to my siblings, and we raised him. The loss was just so great that we knew we had to do something to honor him. We have a run every year in New York City, always the last Sunday in September. We have 30,000 people that retrace his final heroic footsteps. We have pictures of all the firefighters that died on 9/11, the police officers. We have pictures of the 7,000 men and women who died protecting our country ever since. It is the most patriotic event that anyone could ever be at. Firefighters, police officers run from all over the country, and many from all over the world come. So it is a tribute to honor those who died on 9/11, but to honor those who have died afterwards. So —
RUSH: I want to talk with you further about that in just a minute, but I want to stick with 9/11 for a minute because this is the day. I know a few people. I know one man who has lost two of his three sons. It blew up his marriage, wrecked his life. To this day, he’s frustrated that aside from the getting of bin Laden, he just doesn’t feel like there’s been sufficient reciprocity for this. Doesn’t understand it. It’s something you never get over. Like you, he’s doing everything he can to keep the memory of his son alive. People that lost people that day are doing the same thing, ’cause it’s so senseless.
I’ve also heard people say… I want to get your reaction to this, Frank. I’ve heard people say — not this year, but in previous years on the anniversary date — that they think we need to get over it. That, you know, we don’t need to be reading names every year. That the terrorists are winning if we’re gonna stop the whole day on 9/11 to remember. That’s what they succeeded in doing. They stopped an election on that day. They shut down New York City for a while, the air travel system. We can’t let them keep doing this.
What do you react, how do you react when people say this?
SILLER: I say that’s all wrong. It’s important that we never forget. First of all, we don’t want it to happen again! (chuckles) So, you know, if you let your guards down, it will happen again; there’s no question about it. But we have to honor those who died in the biggest terrorist attack that ever happened on American soil. We can never forget the sacrifice that was made that day. There were so many acts of heroism, not just by my brother Stephen, but by so many that were willing to give their lives for their community, for their country. We can never forget that, and we have to teach our children what happened. It’s a fact. It is what happened on 9/11. It changed the world — and, sad to say, it’ll be a long time that we’ll be affected by what happened on 9/11. It’s a reality. It is a reality that we cannot run away from.
RUSH: Now, folks, I’m sure you can hear during the conversation to this point, Frank Siller is not political. This is not a political event to him. This is a terrorist attack. It must be dealt with accordingly. How do you react, Frank…? (chuckles) I still have to ask you a political question. How do you react when you see a New York Times report like the following: “18 years have passed since airplanes took aim and brought down the World Trade Center”?
SILLER: It’s just total BS. There’s nothing political when somebody writes something like that, to me — for me to react to it, that is: You know, terrorists! You know what I mean? Terrorists flew those planes into the towers, and went down in Shanksville and at the Pentagon. Terrorists did it. Call it what it is. People are afraid to say the truth, and you only have to speak the truth, and this is exactly what happened. Terrorists changed the world on September 11, 2001. It was happening beforehand.
We didn’t have our eyes open and we weren’t ready. My brother worked at Squad 1 in Brooklyn. He used to tell me all the time that he was training for a terrorist attack. They knew it was coming in some way or some shape or some form. We don’t want it to happen again. So you can’t say somebody flew a plane into a tower. It was terrorists that flew a plane into the tower, and we’re praying that it never happens again. And how you do that is by remembering, by honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice and making sure that we never forget.
RUSH: Frank Siller of Tunnel to Towers Foundation. Now, let’s talk about that. When did you get the idea for Tunnel to Towers and when did it officially open and get up and running?
SILLER: It was officially open and running in December of 2001. We knew right away that we had to do something to honor what my brother did that day. And a friend of his said to me, “Hey, Frank, how about we do a run?” I said, you know, sounds good, whatever. “No, I mean a run through the tunnel, what he did.” And I literally was overcome with emotion, because I knew it was the absolute perfect thing to do, to honor what Stephen did and for all those that died that day, and so we did it.
But we didn’t know exactly what we were gonna do, you know, raising money and doing things. But to be quite frank with you, God has put us on a path that we have no choice, that we have to do what we’re doing, taking care of our Gold Star families, our fallen first responders and catastrophically injured service members. And we didn’t think we were gonna do any of that when we started. We just wanted to make sure we didn’t forget, and we wanted to honor the sacrifices and celebrate their lives.
But, my God, we were put on this path and we’re gonna stay on that path. And with the help of people like you that bring it to light, to bring the work that we’re doing, you put such a light on us to be able to help all these families. I mean, we’re helping 18 more families already because of what you have done. I’m just overcome with emotion. It just makes the world of difference to my family to make sure that we can go out there, ’cause we are committed to this as I take my final breath, to make sure that we help every American that’s willing to do what my brother did 18 years ago.
RUSH: I saw a video that you produced about a house that you have built for a Wounded Warrior with all kinds of really innovative technology that makes, with his specific injuries, able to open a refrigerator door, able to cook for himself, able to get in the front door, able to lock it. It really is advanced stuff. So Tunnel to Towers helps first responders, it helps the families of military people who have been injured or killed. Where are the boundaries? I mean, you can’t help everybody. So your focus — is it first responders and military?
SILLER: That is it, in a nutshell. Those who are willing to die for you and me, Rush, in a second, in a moment’s notice. They roll the dice for you and me, and those people that put their lives on the line and, like we talked earlier, they don’t make much money so they’re not doing it for money.
RUSH: They really don’t.
RUSH: That’s the thing, especially in New York City, $50,000, even 75,000 —
SILLER: Well, they make more than that —
RUSH: With a family of four, that’s a tough thing to do.
SILLER: They make more than that as time goes on, but my point here is they don’t do it for money. And when they’re gone, we have to take care of their families because a mortgage is the biggest burden that any family has. And if we can alleviate that burden for these families that have paid the ultimate sacrifice, because we know when somebody serves it’s just not the person serving, the whole family serves. And if we can alleviate that mortgage, I think we’ve done a good deed and we can help that family through their darkest times and help lift them and let them know that people care.
SILLER: Eighteen mortgages and counting ’cause I know you’re doing the blue shirts, which I already have one of, and it’s absolutely — I love it and everyone that’s seen it loves it, and, you know, we were on Fox the other day, I know that you mentioned that.
RUSH: You look good in it, Frank. I saw you open the jacket, you were styling that, it looked good.
SILLER: I gotta lose a few more pounds, it showed that, but, no, I really like the shirt. But what I really like most about it, that day that room was filled with first responders and the response to you and what you’re doing was overwhelming and your audience is obviously recognizing the importance to stand up and realize that the Betsy Ross flag is not, not something that you should protest.
It’s something that stands for our freedom from the Revolutionary War to today, and to do good work with it by buying it now, look what’s happening, we’ll be able to help all these families. I mean, come on, you stand up, you make a statement, at the same time that statement is helping these great families that paid the ultimate sacrifice. What could be better than that?
RUSH: People want to push back because you’re right, it isn’t political. Betsy Ross wasn’t political. The flag is not political. It’s a symbol of unity, for crying out loud. And people, you know, are fed up with this. And I have to tell you, Kathryn is the one that chose Tunnel to Towers. She found it. She was so moved by what you’re doing, and we decided to just do it. We didn’t even call to tell you, Frank. We just did it.
SILLER: I was literally knocked off my feet when I heard you talking about about us ’cause I listen all the time, and I had a strong suspicion Kathryn was the one that pushed —
RUSH: Oh, yeah.
SILLER: — the ball forward. And I can’t thank — Kathryn, if you’re listening, thank you, God bless you. But, Rush, I tell you right now, you got the greatest audience in America and they’re responding in a way that we need them to.
RUSH: They’re the ones that made this happen. They really have. Frank, I’m reluctant to give you numbers. This blue shirt, we’re already half through the inventory we bought up just last week.
SILLER: That’s good news.
RUSH: It’s great news. And, look, I appreciate your time here. I know this is a very touching and meaningful day for you. I appreciate you making time for us here. It’s great to talk to you, and we don’t have any end in sight for this. As long as there’s a demand and a desire, we’re gonna make these shirts available at RushLimbaugh.com, click on the “Store” tab. That’s it.
SILLER: Thank you. God bless.
RUSH: Frank Siller of the Tunnel to Towers Foundation. We’ll be back and continue – (interruption) No, no, $3 million and counting. Folks, we’re not pursuing profit here. Proceeds here go to the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, and it’s a $27 item. Now we’ve added royal blue to the white T-shirt. Same unique, great fabric, and $3 million to Tunnel to Towers so far and counting.