Most people over the age of 25 could probably tell you where they were when they heard about the terror attacks on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
Lt. Jim Grismer Jr. of the New York City Fire Department recalled where he was that day.
"It was a strange twist of fate why I wasn't (at the World Trade Center)," Grismer said. "I was supposed to work on Tuesday morning, but a buddy of mine who was supposed to work on Monday couldn't work because he couldn't find a baby sitter that day, so I switched with him. He passed away at the towers. I was actually home when the towers were hit."
The New York City Fire Department lost a total of 343 firefighters on Sept. 11, 2001. Each of those firefighters who died left behind a story of how they ended up at the twin towers that morning. Some of the stories are clear, while others are shrouded in mystery and pieced together by clues left behind.
One of those pieced-together tales is the story of New York City firefighter Stephen Siller.
According to family reports, Siller was on his way to meet his three brothers to play golf, but when he received word about the attacks on the World Trade Center, he strapped on his 60 pounds of gear, left his vehicle in grid-locked traffic and raced on foot from the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the World Trade Center. He was last seen with his fellow firefighters of Squad 1.
Siller's family established the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, which hosted the first Tunnel to Towers Run in New York City in 2002, a race that retraces the footsteps of Siller from Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the site of the World Trade Center. The race went national two years ago, and will make its way back to Savannah on Sept. 14.
Savannah's Tunnel to Towers Run race director, Jane Grismer, said she felt called to direct the race when she found out the run went national.
"I felt qualified personally and professionally," she said.
On a professional level, Grismer also directs the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum's Flying Fortress 5K. On a personal level, she and her brother, Jim Jr., went to high school with Stephen Siller at St. Agnes Cathedral High School on Long Island. Jim Jr. is a New York City firefighter, her brother, Richard, was a New York City firefighter until he had to retire at age 35 due to medical reasons he "suffered from the effects of 9-11" and her father, Jim Grismer, was the operations director for the World Trade Center until he retired in 1999.
Her co-director for the race is Tim Guidera.
"This is our second year," Grismer said. "Last year was a huge success. We raised $50,000 last year.
"The foundation had about 70 races nationwide last year. This year, they chose the cities that had the best performance. There are about 10 this year and all of those races, outside of the one in New York, are modeled after Savannah."
The presenting sponsor for the race is Wells Fargo Advisors, and not only did last year's Savannah race turn out to be one of the biggest fundraisers for the charity in 2012, but Grismer and her team put special touches on the race that no one else did.
"We had 343 Boy and Girl Scouts line up at the race with the name of each (New York City) firefighter lost on 9-11 printed on a card that they held up," Grismer said. "As I walked along and read the cards, I said, 'I knew this person and that person,' and people asked me to stop and tell them about the firefighters ... So, this year, I spent the year putting together the bios on the back of each card."
Grismer said the Scouts line up near Forsyth Park on Whitaker Street.
"Savannah doesn't have a tunnel, but we have a natural tunnel with the oak trees," she said.
While the run was originally intended to honor New York City firefighters who died on Sept. 11, the scope of the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation widened when it began the program Building for America's Bravest, which builds custom smart homes for the most catastrophically injured American service members.
These homes are specially designed to cater to the unique needs of each recipient with features like automated doors and lighting, special showers and cabinets and counters that can be raised and lowered, all controlled by iPads.
Jim Grismer Jr., who will be in town with several other New York City firefighters for the race, said there is no doubt that the military, police officers and firefighters began to forge a special bond after 9-11, and it seemed like a natural fit to honor wounded soldiers through the foundation.
"Post-9-11, there seemed to be a kinship between firefighters, police officers and military," he said. "Following 9-11, we had quite a few vets from Iraq come by the firehouse. We were in awe of them and they were in awe of us. There is a respect and admiration for what each of us does."
According to Grismer, the funds raised from the Savannah race will help fund smart homes for two wounded war veterans from Georgia, Sgt. 1st Class Mike Schlitz, U.S. Army, and Cpl. Todd Love, U.S. Marine Corps.
His home should be completed next year in Columbus, near his former duty station of Fort Benning.
Schlitz was injured in combat on the southwest side of Baghdad in 2007 during his tour with the 10th Mountain Division out of Fort Drum, N.Y.
When an explosion hit his Humvee, he lost both forearms and was burned over 85 percent of his body. He currently lives between medical centers and said his mother is his primary caretaker.
"So far I've had 82 surgeries," Schlitz said. "I go to Brooke Army Medical Center (in San Antonio, Texas), but most of my surgeries are at UCLA Medical Center for facial reconstruction, and I'm working to restore some of my vision, so I spend most of my time these days in Los Angeles."
Schlitz said he's been able to work closely with the home's contractor. The land has been purchased and the foundation has been laid.
"Each home that Tunnel to Towers builds is unique to the individual. Being a double hand amputee and burn victim, they will build a heavily insulated home in order to run the air conditioner cooler since my body temp stays very warm.
"The house works on hands-free technology. I'll have a smart key that I can use to open the front door so I don't scratch it up with my prosthetics. The cabinets will lower. The bathroom will be adjusted.
"One of the cool features is it's run with an iPad. I can see who is at the door and let them in. They have thought of everything."
Even with all the fanfare and excitement, the idea of owning his own home is not lost on this Ranger.
"What it will do for me is it will allow a sense of independence I don't have now ... It's very humbling. I'm very grateful. If you think about it, people work their entire life for a home, so it's something I don't take for granted."
And to show his gratitude, Schlitz will be on hand at the race. But he's not there just to say thanks - he's running the race.
"I have a small group of friends from the 1/75 Ranger Battalion that will be running with me," he said.
Even though Schlitz has retired from the military, he still has strong ties to the military community through his work with the military support group Gallant Few.
"We focus on homelessness, suicide and employment," he said.
"The reality is that the suicide rate among vets is higher than it has ever been. There are 22 suicides per day. Last year, we lost more active-duty soldiers to suicide than combat."
Schlitz also serves as an ambassador for the Gary Sinise Foundation.
"I stay pretty busy. I'm looking forward to being back in Savannah, and I hope everyone comes out for the race."
The race begins and ends at Orleans Square, and will also host a new team competition this year.
"The Siller Cup Firefighter Challenge is new to us this year and exclusive to Savannah," Jane said. "It's a running competition for fire departments ... with teams from all over the area competing."
The winner takes home a traveling trophy and will have the opportunity to defend their title in 2014.