“My heart sank, I went to school with him” 9/11 first responder remembers life and legacy of Stephen Siller

9/11 first responder remembers life and legacy of Stephen Siller

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The annual Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers South Carolina 5K event will take place on Friday evening, September 20, in Columbia’s Vista.

As many gather to remember and honor our heroes of 9/11, one local man is sharing his personal story and connection to Stephen Siller.

Christopher Bernard was at Ground Zero in New York City after the September 11th attacks for more than 3 weeks.

“I thought I’d be going through the rubble, but that wasn’t my job, my job was to evaluate the soldiers that had been on perimeter security that morning.”

Bernard, who lived in Long Island for many years before moving to Columbia, was with the Air National guard’s 106th Air Rescue Wing in New York. Bernard rushed to help in the recovery effort only to discover that people he knew hadn’t made it out alive, including one he went to school with, Firefighter Stephen Siller.

“My heart sank...I went to high school with him. He was very involved with the drama club, very popular, always helping kids and the community.”

Siller, who was supposed to be off the day of the 9/11 attacks, ran through the Brooklyn battery tunnel to get to Ground Zero on foot and died there.

“People ask ‘why?’ and it’s a calling. Stephen was like that," Bernard said.

“Yeah, he didn’t have to put his golf bag down and grab his uniform and helmet...he didn’t know how it was going to end for him, but he would have done it anyway. It’s a calling."

Bernard said the Tunnel to Towers walk/run is one of the most important ways our community can give back to heroes and help them feel support in their service to our country.

“Donate your time, donate money, whatever you can do...it’s not just a race - there’s so much support. It helps me so I don’t forget. That’s why I’m doing this.”

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