NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Thousands followed in the footsteps of a hero for the annual Tunnel to Towers run on Sunday.

But along with honoring 9/11 first responders, there was also a touching new addition — a tribute to fallen servicemen and women.

For Gold Star widow Shannon Slutman, the pain is raw.

“It was hard to see all the banners coming down and I saw, as I was coming down, I saw the guys. My husband was FDNY and a bunch of the guys from his house were holding the flags for the 343,” she told CBS2’s Lisa Rozner. “When I ran this race in 2013 I never thought his– he’d be on a banner.”

Her husband, U.S. Marine Sergeant and FDNY firefighter Christopher Slutman, was killed April 8 while on active duty in Afghanistan. He was three weeks away from returning home to his wife and his three little girls, now ages 4, 8 and 11.

Slutman says the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation has given them strength.

“Yesterday I got word that they zeroed out the balance on my mortgage,” she said. “As a mother, it helps us to breathe a little bit, redirect finances that might have gone to my mortgage before in other ways that are going to help and support my kids and help them well into adulthood.”

Jennie Taylor, also a recent Gold Star widow, ran for the first time with three of her seven children.

“I told them, I said, ‘Watch for the end because he’s pretty recent,'” Taylor said.

They stopped in their tracks at the photo of Army Major Brent Taylor, killed in his fourth deployment to Afghanistan on Nov. 3, 2018. He enlisted in the Utah National Guard after 9/11.

“It still doesn’t seem real, you know? There’s his picture. That’s his nice, beautiful picture as an Army Major, and to think of his name being on a banner because he’s fallen… There’s still days where it feels like he’s just deployed,” Taylor said.

Watch: Jennie Taylor Talks To CBS2’s John Elliott —

 

The foundation also paid off the Taylors’ mortgage as Taylor looks after their children, ages 1 through 14. She says the organization has inspired them in so many ways, including giving them strength to finish the race.

Stephen Siller did this with his fire gear on while a building in front of him was on fire and he ran and he ran with everything he had,” she said. “And Brent didn’t give up. He gave everything he had as a soldier, as a husband, as a father.”

To hear more from these families and to see CBS2’s coverage of Sunday’s race, tune in to our Tunnel To Towers special airing Friday at 7 p.m. on CBS2 and our streaming service, CBSN New York.

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