Tunnel to Towers pays mortgage for fallen soldier's family. It's the second time this year.
CRESTVIEW — For the second time in 12 months, a single nonprofit foundation has paid off the mortgage of a widow of a U.S. Army 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) soldier.
The 7th Group is headquartered at Eglin Air Force Base.
The Tunnel to Towers Foundation announced this week that it had paid the mortgage on the Crestview home where Green Beret Master Sgt. Jose J. Gonzalez had lived with his wife, Brenda, and their two children. Gonzalez died in 2019 from small-arms fire during combat action in Afghanistan.
Last year, the Tunnel to Towers Foundation paid off the mortgage on the home of another fallen 7th Group Green Beret. Sgt. 1st Class Javier Gutierrez, 28, was killed in action in Afghanistan in February 2020 and left behind his wife, Elena, and their four children.
The foundation, based in Staten Island, New York, honors the legacy of New York firefighter Stephen Siller, who died while responding to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City.
Off duty and on the road when the attack occurred, Siller stopped his truck, loaded himself down with 60 pounds of gear and made his way on foot from the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel to the World Trade Center more than 3 miles away.
The Gonzalez family and the Gutierrez family before them are among the 50 families of fallen military personnel and first responders to have had mortgages paid in full by Tunnel to Towers.
The Gonzalez mortgage payoff, in fact, marked the largest single-day payoff in the 20-year history of the foundation. It attributes the milestone in large part to the generosity of donors in 2021, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States.
"We've been very blessed," Jeanna DellaRagione, executive vice president of the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, said of this year's donations.
"America has really come together," she said. "We're honored to do the work we do."
The foundation gets some corporate support, DellaRagione said, but its work essentially is a product of what she called "the beautiful spirit of America."
“This year, Americans came together to remember the incredible loss of life that occurred 20 years ago when evil struck at the heart of our great nation," Tunnel to Towers CEO and Chairman Frank Siller, older brother of Stephen Siller, said in a news release announcing the payoff of the Gonzalez mortgage.
"Thanks to the generosity of this great nation, the Gonzalez family and 49 additional families will never have to worry about making another mortgage payment, and will always have a place to call home,” Siller added.
The Tunnel to Towers Foundation began its mission by providing mortgage-free specially designed and constructed homes to severely injured military personnel and first responders.
In 2018, the foundation expanded its mission to provide mortgage-free homes or pay off mortgages for the families of military personnel and first responders who have been killed in the line of duty and left young children behind.
Families in those situations can apply to the foundation for assistance, but the foundation also looks for families to help, DellaRagione said. The Gonzalez family, which is treating the payoff as a private matter and has not offered any public comment, was among the families to which the Tunnel to Towers Foundation reached out, she said.
This year, the Tunnel to Towers Foundation promised to deliver 200 homes in honor of its 20th anniversary. By the end of the year, Tunnel to Towers will instead have delivered 450 homes across its programs, according to the news release.
For more information on Tunnel to Towers’ mission, or to donate to the foundation, go online to T2T.org.