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Army sergeant has a new home thanks to FDNY hero –

by Terri Hogan

Senior Staff Writer

In honor of the sacrifice of a heroic firefighter who lost his life saving others during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a local hero has a new home.

The Tunnel to Towers Foundation, created to honor the memory of New York City Fire Department firefighter Stephen Siller, who saved lives at the World Trade Center, recently celebrated the first responder’s life and legacy by welcoming Army Sgt. Jonathan Harmon into his new home on Hawkins Creamery Road, north of Laytonsville.

Harmon was the recipient of a brand-new, custom-built, mortgage-free smart home.

“I am still blown away by this place,” he said. “When I drive down the street and see this house on the corner, I say, ‘Oh my God, that is my house.’ It still hasn’t really sunk in.”

On Sept. 11, the 18th anniversary of the attacks, Harmon received the keys to his new home at a dedication ceremony that begin at 9:30 a.m.

A moment of silence was observed at 9:59 a.m., the moment the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed in New York City. It is believed that Siller lost his life in the South Tower. His body was never recovered.

Stephen Siller’s brother, George, who is the executive board member and vice chair of the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, was among those who spoke at the ceremony.

A procession of police, firefighters and Patriot Guard Riders led the official escort that brought Harmon to his new home.

Following the dedication ceremony, Harmon raised the American flag and cut a ribbon before stepping inside for the first time.


Fueled by family service


Harmon, originally from California, comes from a family with a long military history, but says the events of Sept. 11, 2001, gave him another reason to enlist.

He joined the Army as soon as he turned 18 in August of 2011. Less than a year later he was on his first deployment to Afghanistan when he was hit by an improvised explosive device (IED).

He lost his right leg immediately. Surgeons tried to save his left leg, but the damage was so severe that he decided to have it amputated.

Harmon was treated at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and said he grew to love the area and people, so decided to put down roots here.

His injury did not end his service. In 2014, he was accepted into the Continuation of Active Duty Program, where he mentored and provided inspiration to his fellow paratroopers. He retired in March.

He is attending the University of Maryland and pursing a degree in nutritional science.


Community lends support


Olney resident Susan Hack, who owns International Flag Supply, a company offering flags and flagpoles, was contacted the day before the dedication ceremony to see if she had a flagpole and flag available for the new house.

“I don’t usually stock flagpoles, but I happened to have one in my garage,” she said. “I was happy to donate it and a flag to Tunnel to Towers Foundation because it is a great organization. We participated in their walk in New York a few years ago.”

Her husband, Jack Hack, is a retired Montgomery County police officer. He posted notice of the dedication on Facebook and later that evening was contacted by a representative of the department, informing him that the motorcycle unit would provide an escort and attend the ceremony.

Susan Hack was scheduled to be at Fletcher’s Service Center the afternoon of Sept. 11 for the annual collection of faded, torn and tattered flags. Members of American Legion Norman Price Post 68 help to collect the flags, and properly retire them.

A call also went out to American Legion Commander Halsey Smith, informing him of the dedication ceremony the following morning. Even with short notice, Smith attended the ceremony.

“It was wonderful,” Smith said. “I was happy to be there, and wish we had more notice so others could have come.”


Giving back


The Tunnel to Towers Foundation believes the nation’s veterans deserve to live in homes free from financial and physical hardships.

The Smart Home Program provides the physical freedom to live independently and the financial freedom to pursue their passions.

Harmon was selected to receive a new home through an application process.

Land was secured and the new home was custom-built to help him live as independently as possible. It is completely wheelchair accessible, with wide hallways, oversized doorways and hardwood floors.

The house also features cabinet shelving designed to enable easy access, a mechanized lift that allows the stove to be raised and lowered to wheelchair height, customized bathrooms and automated doors and security.

Foundation spokeswoman Caroline Magyarits said that home recipients are able help to design their house.

“Sgt. Harmon is so fun and energetic,” she said. “He chose bright red and orange walls, which very much fits his personality.”

To date, Tunnel to Towers has delivered, started construction on, or is in the design phase of 85 smart homes around the country.

According to the Tunnel to Towers website, on Sept. 11, 2001, Stephen Siller, who was assigned to the New York City Fire Department’s Brooklyn Squad 1, had just finished his shift and was on his way to play golf with his brothers when he got word of a plane hitting the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

Siller called his wife and asked her to tell his brothers he would catch up with them later. He returned to Squad 1 to get his gear.

Siller drove his truck to the entrance of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, but it had already been closed for security. 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.


    To learn more about the foundation, go to tunnel2towers.org or call 718-987-1931.

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