'Rough edges' gone, but loss remains for Naperville Sept. 11 victim's mother

Fifteen years have passed since Pat Shanower's middle child was among nearly 3,000 others who perished in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Working his naval intelligence job at the Pentagon, 40-year-old Cmdr. Dan Shanower was killed when the hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into his newly renovated office.

Shanower's hometown of Naperville has embraced him with a memorial along the Riverwalk, a site that warms his mother's heart. Pat Shanower, 92, plans to spend the 15th anniversary of the attacks there, pausing in reverence with officials and residents eager to pay their respects.

The Daily Herald talked with Shanower about the attack that forever altered her family. Here is an edited version of the conversation.

Q. How has the Sept. 11 attack changed your family's lives?

A. In losing a beloved member of our family, the rest of us have grown closer, despite geographical distance. Dan's brothers and sisters (ages 53 to 63) are now in four different states (Arizona, California, Illinois and Montana). So we don't see each other on even a weekly or monthly basis. But it has made everyone in the family realize the importance of every day; that you can't take tomorrow for granted.

Also, losing Dan has affected the next generation. One of Dan's nephews went to Naval Station Great Lakes. One of his nieces works as a civilian in naval intelligence, where he worked. His life and career have affected all of us. I think it's really important to keep someone's image alive in the family.

Q. How has the passage of time changed your thoughts about the attack?

A. The rough edges of loss are gone, but the hole is always there. You don't get over losing someone, no matter how long, how much time has passed.

Q. What does it mean that the city of Naperville hosts remembrance ceremonies each year at the Cmdr. Dan Shanower/Sept. 11 Memorial?

A. It's a wonderful thing that the city, first of all, gave the land and that individuals cared enough to provide the funds to build a memorial. It was one of the first ones in the country to go up to honor those that lost their lives that day. It was a true community outpouring of love. My husband (the late Donald Shanower) and I were always anxious that it honor all those lost - not just our son. There are just so many around the country whose families have been impacted by that day.

Q. What should be taught in schools about Sept. 11?

A. Our son said in his essay (written in 1997 about the deaths of four shipmates 10 years earlier) that "freedom isn't free," that many people over the years have given their lives to preserve things that we take for granted. Young people should realize that along with the privileges and the rights we have, comes great responsibility. There are many ways to serve as well as going into the military. I would want them to know that this (terrorist attack) was really caused by those who were seeking to destroy our way of life, and therefore we all have the responsibility to serve to keep the privileges that we have.

Q. What do you think about the cultural and security changes the country undergone since Sept. 11?

A. I'm told the security changes have stopped many potential disasters that we as citizens don't know about always. I think some of the cultural changes haven't been as positive because some groups have been targeted as a result of that, and it's never wise to paint a whole group of people with the same brush. Our country was made up of people from many different places and with different ideas and philosophies.

Q. What are some of your favorite memories about Dan?

A. Everyone who has spoken about him has mentioned his sense of humor, and that's something that's very much missed whenever the family is together. Dan was the type of person who lit up the room and made friends very easily. When our family has reunions, which we do with regularity, we miss that aspect. He was very good with his nieces and nephews.

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  Pat Shanower places a wreath at the Naperville memorial named for her son, Dan, who was killed in the Sept. 11 attacks while working at the Pentagon. The city hosts Memorial Day and Sept. 11 remembrance ceremonies at the site along the Riverwalk behind the municipal center. Mark Black/, MAY 2014
Pat Shanower, mother of the late Cmdr. Dan Shanower, plants a garden surrounding the Naperville memorial in her son's honor. Pat, now 92, will be at the memorial Sunday for the city's annual Sept. 11 remembrance ceremony. Daily Herald file photo, September 2003
Naperville native Cmdr. Dan Shanower died Sept. 11, 2001, in the Pentagon when a hijacked American Airlines flight crashed into his office. Daily Herald file photo, September 2001
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