9/11 Mobile Exhibit Encourages Unity in Time of Division
Miami County to Host Tunnel To Towers Event on Sept. 11
By Shelly Calvert
(NOTE: This story originally appeared in the 2021 Summer issue of This Local Life magazine. At that time, the event was scheduled to take place at the Miami County Fairgrounds. It will now take place in downtown Troy. We have updated this article to reflect the change) - Photos courtesy of Tunnel to Towers.
TROY - It has been 20 years since the fall of the twin towers, a catastrophic terrorist attack that left American citizens shocked and transfixed to their television screens for weeks. We all came together when we learned the full extent of the attacks; together as a nation, together as we mourned, together as we honored fallen citizens and first responders.
Some would say, all these years later, we have forgotten the unity that came from the ashes of 9/11.
Selena Loyd, executive director of Miami County Veterans Services, wants to unite our region once again by partnering with Tunnel To Towers to bring the 9/11 Never Forget Mobile Exhibit to Miami County.
The mobile unit, which is surrounded by activities and accompanied by first responders who were at the twin towers, will be in front of the Miami County Courthouse in downtown Troy on Sept. 10-12, with special events taking place each day.
The mobile educational unit is a high-tech 83-foot tractor- trailer that transforms into a 1,100-square-foot exhibit. Personnel from Tunnel To Towers will accompany the exhibit, along with firefighters who were at the towers during 9/11, or shortly thereafter for clean up. It is a tribute to all those who lost their lives on 9/11, including the 343 members of the New York City Fire Department who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“We are bringing this exhibit for everyone in Miami County to experience together,” Loyd said. “There is so much separateness with our community, so we wanted it to be a county thing, something that will help us remember that when 9/11 happened, it wasn’t just one race or one group that it happened to, it happened to all of us.”
The 9/11 Never Forget Mobile Exhibit, created in 2013, will have reached 33 states by the time it appears in Miami County in September. With a brief hiatus during the 2020 pandemic, the mobile exhibit began journeying the country again in April.
The exhibit is free, Loyd said, commenting that the Veteran’s Services organization wanted the weekend to be about enjoying the exhibit as a community without cost being a barrier to anyone.
“We are completely funding the exhibit for the weekend, hosting the people who come with it, and collaborating with the Miami County Agricultural Society for events all weekend,” Loyd said. Along with the mobile exhibit, visitors to the fairgrounds can enjoy a Friday night dance, a scavenger hunt “search and rescue,” a laser show, camping, a parade and a special memorial program on the evening of Sept. 11. More activities will be added this summer as plans continue to develop.
Tyler Benjamin, exhibit coordinator for Tunnel to Towers, said the exhibit is an educational experience presented by people who were actually at the twin towers.
“The reason we built the mobile exhibit was to provide a way to educate the public about what happened on 9/11 and to bring real firefighters who were on the scene or there afterwards.”
Benjamin said the most common reaction to the exhibit is one of awe, “because a lot of people who don’t live in New York don’t understand exactly what happened, or they are misled by media or conspiracy theories and misconceptions. The exhibit leads them to truth and puts into context what happened that day.”
Benjamin echoed Loyd’s sentiment that the whole weekend is one of “hope” and of “coming together.” He added that it is just as important for people to learn about what happened after 9/11 as it is the event itself.
“On Sept. 11 we didn’t care about who you voted for, etc. We were just all Americans,” he said. “We have much more in common with what brings us together than what tears us apart. That is a big part of the message we bring.”
The event in Troy has been in the works for months and securing the exhibit in our backyard on the actual 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack is a huge deal for Miami County. It is an exhibit that is expected to bring in field trips for schoolchildren, veterans groups, church groups, first responders and families who want to honor the memory of those lost on that devastating day.
Miami County Commissioner Wade Westfall said he is excited to see all the potential that an exhibit of this caliber will bring to the community.
“Miami County is honored to host the 9/11 Never Forget Mobile Exhibit on the 20th anniversary of the terror attacks,” he said. “We encourage and invite everyone to visit, to pay their respects and never forget this day in our nation’s history.”
While events of this special weekend are taking place in Troy, organizers anticipate that surrounding townships and cities will partner with them in remembrance. The 20th anniversary of our nation’s loss is expected to spur a wave of memorial themes, and hosting the Never Forget Mobile Unit will give our region a distinctive focus.
“9/11 happened. It happened to all of us and it was a reminder that tragic events happen; but we should be together before tragedy hits. If we don’t stand as one, we’ll fall as many,” Loyd commented.
The Tunnel To Towers Foundation was created in honor of fallen responders and was inspired by hero Stephen Siller. According to the Foundation’s website, Stephen’s story is one we can all learn from:
On Sept. 11, 2001, “Stephen drove his truck to the entrance of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, but it had already been closed for security purposes. Determined to carry out his duty, he strapped 60 pounds of gear to his back and raced on foot through the tunnel to the twin towers, where he gave up his life while saving others. Stephen had everything to live for; a great wife, five wonderful children, a devoted extended family, and friends. Stephen’s parents were lay Franciscans and he grew up under the guiding philosophy of St. Francis of Assisi, whose encouraging and inspirational phrase ‘while we have time, let us do good’ were words that Stephen lived by. Stephen’s life and heroic death serve as a reminder to us all to live life to the fullest and to spend our time here on earth doing good – this is his legacy.”
It’s stories like this—and there are many—that Loyd and Benjamin hope will remind us to bind together and create a renewed spirit of unity.
“God put it on my heart to bring this exhibit to our community on 9/11,” Loyd shared. “Then my board of directors came on board and we have had support from everyone.”
Tunnel To Towers continues to support fallen first responders and their families. At the end of 2020 the foundation had paid off the mortgages of 250 homes (built and given away or paid off mortgages) for these families.
For more information about Tunnel To Towers Foundation, go to t2t.org.