Local musician helps 9/11 first responders, Sandy victims

Sykesville resident Jim Hiltz spent Thanksgiving working in New Jersey to help victims of Superstorm Sandy, and now he is promoting a song he wrote and recorded about 9/11, with the hopes of donating proceeds from the song to help first responders in New York City.

Hiltz said every year on Sept. 11 he flies the flag in his front yard at half-mast, to honor all of the victims.

One day three years ago, Hiltz was driving his children to soccer practice, when he drove by the American Legion in Sykesville and noticed the American flag was at half-mast.

"I was doing all the things you do to stay busy, and I realized I forgot that it was 9/11 that day," he said. "I was really mad at myself for forgetting, and I told myself I could never forget that day again."

That night, Jim, his wife and his four children, were outside roasting marshmallows by a campfire, when he grabbed his guitar and began to play.

The song came from his heart, Hiltz said, in honor of the men and women who lost their lives on Sept. 11, along with the men and women who serve in the armed forces to protect the United States.

"It wasn't until this year that I thought I would record this song and see what kind of good things I can do with it," Hiltz said. "So I called a few musicians and they agreed to sign on and play."

Earlier this year, Hiltz came together with several musicians, including Joe Dundore, founder of the JoeyDCares Rock Orchestra, Kyle Reitz, an aspiring musician, Rob Fahey, a local Moralities musician, and others to record the song under the moniker, The Rhythm Surf Monkeys.

Together as the Rhythm Surf Monkeys, the group recorded Hiltz's original song, titled, "Where were you when my dad became a hero." Hiltz said the recording was done locally in South Carroll with Mike Pope in his studio.

The song, along with a music video made by Emmy award-winning editor Neil Beller, debuted at the JoeyDCares Rock Orchestra Wounded Warrior fundraiser in July.

Dundore, who recorded the saxophone solo on the song, said the JoeyDCares Wounded Warrior event raised more than $10,000 for Wound Warrior Project.

Hiltz sold copies of his song at the event, and he donated all of the approximately $300 in proceeds from the song sales to the money raised for the Wounded Warrior Project.

Hiltz spent three weeks in November working in New Jersey, helping victims of Superstorm Sandy, and during that time he was able to hand-deliver copies of his song to firefighters in the city.

Hiltz works for Verizon, and volunteered to travel to New Jersey to help with communications restoration.

"That experience up there was very rewarding because those people were phenomenal, their resolve was phenomenal," he said. "You would see the stress in their eyes, the worry in their face having loss as much as they lost, and they were so thankful to everyone for coming up to help."

Hiltz spent Thanksgiving away from home for the first time, he said. Although he missed his wife and four children, he said he was thankful for his microwave turkey dinner in the midst of the devastation and destruction left behind by Sandy.

Hiltz took a day off from his work in New Jersey to visit the National September 11 Memorial in New York City.

In New York he met with Alexandra Drakakis from the 9/11 Memorial Museum's Artist Registry.

The Artists Registry at the National September 11 Memorial Museum is a virtual gallery for art created in response to the events of Sept. 11, according to the website http://www.registry.national911memorial.org. The art featured in the online data base includes visual, tactile and auditory media submitted by professional artists and individuals who were inspired by 9/11 and reacted by creating art.

"Where were you when my dad became a hero" was accepted into the registry back in June, Hiltz said.

After touring the memorial with Drakakis and giving her and her office staff copies of his CD, Hiltz visited Engine Company 10, located on Ground Zero, he said.

"I walked in there and explained to them what the song was about," Hiltz said. "I wanted to hand copies of the song to them and tell them thank you and say they were the inspiration behind it."

Now Hiltz is back at home, and he is working to sell more copies of his song. All of the proceeds will be donated to first responders, he said, and he hopes to especially help first responders who are struggling with cancer and other obstacles because of their bravery on Sept. 11.

To purchase a copy of "Where were you when my dad became a hero," go to The Rhythm Surf Monkey's Facebook page and click on "Music Store." Digital copies of the song are sold for $1.99.

In addition to donating all of the song's proceeds, Hiltz said he is also using his experiences as a lesson for his children and others, to teach them that it is important to give back whenever you can.

"I think what the kids learn from all of this is that you always pay it forward," Hiltz said. "In times of need people always help you, and then in turn, you can never say thank you enough. When people help you, what you do is you lead by example and you help others in return."

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