First responders honored in Tunnel to Towers 5K in Jacksonville

First responders holding up a flag with thin blue and red lines as a way to honor those who lost their lives in the line of duty during the 9/11 terror attacks. 

Dozens of people laced up their running shoes for the second annual Tunnel to Towers 5K at the Jacksonville Landing Saturday.

Action News Jax Family Focus sponsored the race, which honors the heroes who lost their lives in the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Some first responders, including retired firefighter Jack Oehem, ran the race in full gear. He has 32 years of dedicated service under his belt.

Oehm was a battalion chief with the New York City Fire Department at the time of the 9/11 attacks.

“I lost 20 of my men. Three of my nine units never came back home, so it's personal to me. I lost a lot of good friends,” Oehm said.

The Tunnel to Towers Run & Walk Series was created to remember the heroic life and death of Stephen Siller, a firefighter in New York City who lost his life trying to save others inside the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.

Oehm said Siller was on his way home when he heard about the attacks, but headed back to the firehouse to join the rescue efforts.

“This is the least we could do. Running a 5K in honor of what Stephen did,” Oehm said.

More than 400 first responders were killed on 9/11. The event honors their lives and military members who make sacrifices in the line of duty.

Event organizer Marc McCorkle said part of the proceeds from the race will go toward building homes for injured veterans.

“They are the reason why we can be out here running,” McCorkle said.

So far, the foundation has built 56 homes across the country.

Oehm said the Tunnel to Towers races help us understand the sacrifice veterans make for us.

“I feel it's the least we could do as Americans to say thank you to our veterans,” Oehm said. “You think back to all those people that can't enjoy a day like this, all those people that sacrifice their life for our freedoms.”