Sept. 11 remembrances teach, remind crowds: 'Freedom isn't free'
The words on the bench at the Cmdr. Dan Shanower/Sept. 11 Memorial in downtown Naperville now serve as much as a lesson as they do a reminder: "Freedom isn't free."
A few hundred people gathered Wednesday evening at the memorial along the Riverwalk to teach the youngest generations about the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and to remind older generations of the sacrifice and heroism of the nearly 3,000 Americans who perished that day.
"Freedom isn't free" was a mantra of Shanower, a 40-year-old Naval intelligence officer from Naperville working at the Pentagon who was killed in the attacks.
It rings true, as relevant as ever, 18 years after the attacks, speakers at the Naperville ceremony said. And it's a message those who have "living memory" of the carnage must now pass on to a new crop of young adults, teens and children born after that fateful day, Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico said.
"We've said these words often," Chirico said of Shanower's slogan, repeating it himself, "Freedom isn't free." "We must continue to say them often and pass them on to our children."
Similar messages of education and remembrance were part of gatherings across the region Wednesday at fire stations and civic centers, plazas and schools in communities such as Aurora, Elgin, Hoffman Estates, Lincolnshire, Palatine and Wheaton.
Many remarked on the coming of age of those born the year of the attacks, in 2001. Others pointed out the continuing health effects for first responders who rushed into the World Trade Center in New York City after hijacked planes slammed into the skyscrapers' upper floors, causing clouds of debris, death and chaos.
In Naperville, keynote speaker Charles F. Johanns recapped the details of the terrorist actions, then told the story of how the city came together afterward to respect and honor those who died.
Terrorists turned four airplanes into missiles on Sept. 11, Johanns reminded the Naperville crowd, striking the Pentagon as well as the World Trade Center and a field in Pennsylvania, but they also turned a nation "beaming" from more than a decade of prosperity into a nation reeling from an unexpected tragedy. The loss of innocent life "ignited a firestorm of American patriotism," Johanns said.
In Naperville, that sense of patriotism -- coupled with the loss of native son Shanower -- led fundraising efforts for a memorial to begin in February 2002, under the leadership of Johanns and the city's then mayor, the late George Pradel. Johanns said the community raised more than $300,000 in cash and in-kind support, such as free design work from local architects, to complete and dedicate the memorial on Sept. 11, 2003.
Gathered at the site Wednesday, leaders with the Exchange Club of Naperville and the city's public safety departments called on the crowd never to forget the victims of Sept. 11 and the efforts of countless others to keep communities safe.
"We must remember to be vigilant, careful and noncomplacent," Naperville fire Chief Mark Puknaitis said. "We must never take for granted what we have in this country and what Cmdr. Shanower stood for, that freedom is not free."