Planning has been going on for more than a year and Saturday was the culmination of what organizers called Missouri Patriot Day.
Multiple events in Jefferson City marked Mid-Missouri’s honoring of those who perished 20 years ago in the 9/11 attacks.
The day began with the Steven Siller Tunnel to Towers 5K Run & Walk to help raise funds to support the families of military and first responders.
The event started and finished at the south steps of the Capitol. Participants followed in the footsteps of New York City firefighter Stephen Siller, who died on 9/11 after strapping on his gear and running through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the World Trade Center Towers.
The public ran or walked with first responders, veterans and active military service personnel, some wearing their gear just as Siller did. That gear can weigh as much as 65 pounds.
As of last year, the Tunnel to Towers Foundation had helped to build 250 mortgage-free homes for veterans and first responders. Four families in Missouri had their mortgage paid thanks to funds from the foundation.
Before the race began, a moment of silence took place at 8:37 a.m. to mark the time when the Pentagon was attacked.
Roxy Vanpool, of Jefferson City, has helped organize and coordinate this event, now in its sixth year, which has grown in participation every year.
“This was by far our largest year as we had over 300 people signed up,” Vanpool said. “They came from all over the state as well as some from Illinois, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.”
Vanpool said many who participate have ties to the first responder service, but many are just wanting to show their patriotism.
“This year, I think more than in the past, that sense of patriotism led more people to participate,” Vanpool said. “People have been watching things happen across our country and all over the world, and they want to come and be a part of something like this.”
After being at the first four Tunnel to Towers events in Jefferson City, last year, Cpl. Pete Leyva, of the Osage Beach Police Department, had to be on duty. But he was back this year.
“The first year I heard the firemen do this in full-gear, and I thought that was awesome, so I decided I would be in my uniform and carry a fireman’s U.S. flag when I participate,” Pete said. “That way I’m representing my brothers who were killed on 9/11.”
Leyva’s wife, Anita, also participated while carrying a police officer U.S. flag.
“I depend on his brothers to take care of him when I send him out there,” Anita said.
“It gave me goosebumps just looking at all these people and their wanting to show respect for the country and first responders,” Pete added.
Later in the afternoon, climbers participated in the fifth annual State Fire Marshal 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb to support fallen first responder families.
Fire Marshall officials said they surpassed their goal to raise $25,000 for Supporting Heroes, which supports fire, EMS and law enforcement survivors, and the Missouri Fire Fighters Memorial in Kingdom City.
Last year, the event took place at Dwight T. Reed Stadium at Lincoln University due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but this year, the event returned to it’s original location, the Jefferson State Office Building.
The event commemorates the 343 firefighters who died while working to save others during the terrorist attacks. A total of 2,600 steps were touched as participants repeatedly climbed and descended the stairs of the 13-story building, the equivalent of the 110 stories of the World Trade Center towers.
In remembrance, climbers wear lanyards with the names and photographs of each of the 343 firefighters who perished at the World Trade Center. Just like at the Tunnel to Towers event, many of the climbers were in full firefighting gear as they participated.
Among the more than 90 climbers was Sophia Syrigos, of the Western Taney County Fire Department. This was her fourth year doing the climb. She began working in the fire service in Holts Summit as a volunteer and continues that service down in the Branson area.
“I wanted to serve my community, and I love the physical aspect and working outside,” Syrigos said. “I was only one in 2001, but the stories about what happened that day have meant a lot to me and made me want to do the stair climb. I’ve kept all the lanyards with the names of the firefighters, and I have a whole wall at home dedicated to what they did that day.”
Syrigos is currently going to college to get her fire science degree so she can make the fire service her career, “But I’ll still volunteer no matter what.”
Batallion Chief/Fire Marshall Jim Pasley, of the Columbia Fire Department, has done the stair climb every year and helped get a similar event started at Farout Field in Columbia.
“I was working in another business when the attacks occurred, and that made me decide I wanted to serve,” Pasley said. “It changed my life and my families life, because no one in my family had ever served in the fire department.”
Pasley hopes this anniversary causes people to think about volunteering for public service.
“In the fire service we’ve seen a little falling off period of people coming out to serve,” Pasley said. “I know it’s very hard, especially in the volunteer service, because you have to give up your own time for training and that’s tough when you have a full-time job on top of that.”
Doing her first stair climb was Khristie Jacquin who is the chief of the Pontiac Volunteer Fire Department in Ozark County. She got into the fire service after she had to go through a flu fire at her home.
“After that fire seven years ago, my husband said we should join the department, and I did, and I fell in love with it,” Jacquin said. “Every year on Sept. 12, I post (on social media) that I wish the country was like Sept. 12, 2001, again because we were so united in spirit. So I wasn’t going to miss doing this stair climb for anything.”
Before the event started, State Fire Marshal Tim Bean addressed the climbers, using the pedestal base of the bear statue in front of the Jefferson Building as a platform. Speaking with a bullhorn, Bean said it reminded him of how former President George W. Bush used a bullhorn to talk to fire fighters at Ground Zero shortly after the attacks.
“I wasn’t born when World War II started, but we still remember that event, so it’s on our watch, as first responders — police, fire and EMS — to not let this next generation forget what happened on 9/11,” Bean said. “It’s on our shoulders to commemorate and honor those who lost their lives during that horrific event.”
— to www.fultonsun.com