Sept. 11 remembrances teach, remind crowds: 'Freedom isn't free'

  • A bench at the Cmdr. Dan Shanower/Sept. 11 Memorial in Naperville reminds visitors of the late Shanower's saying, "Freedom isn't free." Shanower, a Naval intelligence worker at the Pentagon, died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

      A bench at the Cmdr. Dan Shanower/Sept. 11 Memorial in Naperville reminds visitors of the late Shanower's saying, "Freedom isn't free." Shanower, a Naval intelligence worker at the Pentagon, died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Charles F. Johanns, co-chairman of the Cmdr. Dan Shanower/Sept. 11 Memorial Commission in Naperville speaks Wednesday at the city's remembrance ceremony about how the memorial came together.

      Charles F. Johanns, co-chairman of the Cmdr. Dan Shanower/Sept. 11 Memorial Commission in Naperville speaks Wednesday at the city's remembrance ceremony about how the memorial came together. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Mark Puknaitis, Naperville fire chief, catches his breath Wednesday during the Sept. 11 remembrance ceremony at the Cmdr. Dan Shanower/Sept. 11 Memorial along the Riverwalk at the municipal center.

      Mark Puknaitis, Naperville fire chief, catches his breath Wednesday during the Sept. 11 remembrance ceremony at the Cmdr. Dan Shanower/Sept. 11 Memorial along the Riverwalk at the municipal center. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Naperville firefighters stand at attention Wednesday during the city's Sept. 11 remembrance ceremony to honor the victims of the terrorist attack.

      Naperville firefighters stand at attention Wednesday during the city's Sept. 11 remembrance ceremony to honor the victims of the terrorist attack. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Visitors on Wednesday to the First Division Museum at Cantigny Park in Wheaton recognized the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks with a ceremony introducing a new permanent exhibit. Two steel beams salvaged from the remains of the World Trade Center in New York City are the centerpiece.

      Visitors on Wednesday to the First Division Museum at Cantigny Park in Wheaton recognized the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks with a ceremony introducing a new permanent exhibit. Two steel beams salvaged from the remains of the World Trade Center in New York City are the centerpiece. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • Attendees of a Sept. 11 remembrance ceremony Wednesday at Cantigny Park in Wheaton rise for the national anthem as the First Division Museum introduces a new exhibit featuring two steel beams salvaged from the remains of the World Trade Center.

      Attendees of a Sept. 11 remembrance ceremony Wednesday at Cantigny Park in Wheaton rise for the national anthem as the First Division Museum introduces a new exhibit featuring two steel beams salvaged from the remains of the World Trade Center. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Kathy Moore of Lombard composes herself Wednesday after touching steel beams salvaged from the World Trade Center in New York City and now on display at the First Division Museum at Cantigny Park in Wheaton. The museum recognized the anniversary of the terrorist attacks with a ceremony introducing the beams as a new permanent exhibit.

      Kathy Moore of Lombard composes herself Wednesday after touching steel beams salvaged from the World Trade Center in New York City and now on display at the First Division Museum at Cantigny Park in Wheaton. The museum recognized the anniversary of the terrorist attacks with a ceremony introducing the beams as a new permanent exhibit. John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 9/11/2019 9:34 PM

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.

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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."

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