By Tommy Gilligan, West Point Directorate of Public Affairs and CommunicationsSeptember 29, 2010
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Sept. 29, 2010) -- While most college students were sleeping in Sunday morning, nearly 1,200 West Point cadets boarded 17 buses at 4 a.m., to travel to New York City for the 9th annual Tunnel to Towers Run.
The cadets volunteered to run alongside more than 23,000 other participants from the mouth of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the grounds of the World Trade Center. This is the very same route that New York City Firefighter Stephen Siller took on 9/11 after hearing the radio dispatch that a plane had just struck the Twin Towers. Siller had completed an overnight shift with Squad 1 in Brooklyn and was planning a day of golf with his brothers. Instead, he gathered more than 75 pounds of fire fighting equipment and ran to join his brethren at Ground Zero.
Siller, along with 342 other firefighters, made the ultimate sacrifice on and in the days following 9/11 in support of search and rescue operations.
"Stephen embodied the Warrior Ethos: I will always place the mission first; I will never accept defeat; I will never quit; I will never leave a fallen comrade," West Point Superintendent Lt. Gen. David H. Huntoon, Jr. said. "That is the Ethos of our cadets, and we are very honored to be here."
As the mass of cadets moved toward Coffey Park to meet with the rest of the runners, 99 cadets hoisting American flags lined West Street opposite the enormous banner, honoring the 343 fallen firefighters, held by FDNY personnel.
"We realize more than most that the men and women of the military have picked up where the uniform service left off on 9/11," George Siller, brother of Stephen Siller, said. "The sacrifices that they have made truly inspire all of us every day."
The race began at 9:11 a.m., under the roar of Rolling Thunder motorcycles which led the procession along the very route Siller took nine years ago.
Wounded Warriors and members from Team Semper Fi were the first runners of the morning to exit the tunnel. They were met by the cheers and encouragement of spectators and uniformed personnel down the winding course.
Some participants had flown from as far as Afghanistan to support this cause, and all branches of the Armed Forces were represented in the run. American pride was abundantly clear with countless racers running with flags or wearing military, police and firefighter uniforms.
Then echoing from deep within the tunnel, the chant of "USA, USA, USA" came bellowing over the crowd. Emerging out of the masses in a four column formation were more than 1,100 cadets, staff and faculty members from the U.S. Military Academy.
Along with Huntoon, the Corps of Cadets was led by Brig. Gen. Timothy Trainor, Dean of the Academic Board, and Cadet First Captain Marc Beaudoin. As Trainor passed the cadets holding the American flags, he dipped below the draped flags to slap hands with each of them. Trainor said he was extremely proud of the West Point volunteers who made the trip that morning to support a noble event.
As the cadets crossed the finish line, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, comedian Dennis Miller and other distinguished guests, offered their show of appreciation for their participation.
It was a day where all participants could feel proud to be Americans, united and strong, said Class of 2011 Cadet Tom Witkowski.
"I was awestruck by the courage exhibited by firefighter Stephen Siller on Sept. 11, 2001, and grateful that I could honor him by participating in this event," Witkowski said. "The overwhelming support from servicemembers worldwide was both inspirational and humbling and really proved that 'we will never forget.'"