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updated: 9/8/2011 10:28 AM

Memories of a horrific morning

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  • The Wall of Faces is part of the Cmdr. Dan Shanower/Sept. 11 Memorial along Naperville's downtown Riverwalk. A Naperville native, Shanower was killed while serving at the Pentagon during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

    The Wall of Faces is part of the Cmdr. Dan Shanower/Sept. 11 Memorial along Naperville's downtown Riverwalk. A Naperville native, Shanower was killed while serving at the Pentagon during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
    Daily Herald file photo


As the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 approaches, remembrances that include blood drives and interfaith services already have begun to fill the calendar.

Many writers are recounting personal stories, longing to connect where they were that fateful day.

I was attending a Rotary Club of Naperville board meeting in the backroom at Egg Harbor. Barb Dwyer presided as president.

Among other things, we'd been discussing the first United Way Auction planned that Sept. 14 where all the outdoor giraffe sculptures would be up for bid. I'd had an artistic hand in "Gesundheit," a lederhosen-clad character that stood for Rotary Oktoberfest, the club's major fundraising event that year.

Maybe 10 minutes before 8 a.m., fellow board member Jeanne Johnson excused herself to answer an expected call from her daughter, Chris Latham.

When Jeanne returned, obviously shaken, she said the World Trade Center had been struck by a plane.

Barb immediately adjourned the meeting. I drove directly home. I turned on the TV in time to see a replay of the second attack.

I called our three children.

In total disbelief, I couldn't stop watching the devastation in New York City where I'd lived during the 1970s, when tenants had begun to occupy the then-new Twin Towers.

For more than a decade, whenever someone came to visit, we toured the historic Financial District in Lower Manhattan. On a clear day, a trip to the observatory of the new WTC was always a highlight.

On two occasions, we attended bar mitzvahs at Windows of the World on the 107th floor of the North Tower.

And my husband and I celebrated with our small wedding party at Windows of the World on the day we were married on July 7, 1978.

As I watched the news coverage, collecting my thoughts, I tried calling my two mentors in Manhattan, ad men Jerry Della Femina and Dick Raboy. Phone lines were busy. Then I sent emails. By 11:04 a.m. I'd received terse messages from both of them. They were safe and in shock.

At first we didn't hear that any of our friends had been injured or killed. But within days, we were notified that three people with whom we'd shared good times had been killed that horrific day.

One was Michael Boccardi, my husband's sister's nephew, who worked on the 93rd floor for Fred Alger Management.

Our friend Bonnie Smithwick was killed. Though she lived a few blocks from us in New York, we mostly saw her in the Hamptons where we rented summer houses. Until her death, we were unaware that she, too, had worked for Fred Alger Management.

Another loss was Tony Infante, a Port Authority police officer, who lived in Chatham, N.J., where we moved in 1981 when our family had outgrown our Manhattan apartment.

And though I did not personally know Navy Cmdr. Dan Shanower, who hailed from Naperville, I've experienced how his death in the Pentagon that day connected this community with the mantra, "Freedom isn't free."

Several months after the attacks, I vividly remember a forwarded email from Tom Bursh, a fellow Rotarian I'd first met when I worked at Naper Settlement. The subject line noted a tribute to all first responders.

Inside were photographs of Port Authority police, heroes killed on Sept. 11 during rescue efforts. Tony's picture was there. Again I remembered the good-natured father whose son had been in our son's class. Tony's schedule allowed him to chaperon field trips. All of us mothers appreciated times when a father could accompany the trips for all the young boys in the class. Tony often was that dad.

I also recalled when I ran into Tony at Newark Airport, a day when our three children and I arrived to catch a flight to Dayton en route to visit my folks in Muncie.

We greeted Tony enthusiastically from across the terminal. When close enough, he whispered to let me know he was working undercover and in the middle of surveillance.

I felt blood rush to my head, embarrassed for possibly blowing his cover as he scurried us toward our gate to get us out of the area. Tony calmed my worries, saying the interruption likely would be a good diversion in case the suspect had become suspicious of his watch. Other police were undercover, too, he said.

The next time I saw Tony, he said they'd made the arrest.

An inbox hangs near my computer with a small collection of printed emails that I've saved over the years.

Occasionally, I reread the ones from my New York friends dated Sept. 11, 2001 -- and I remember resilience. I remember to connect.