'How united the country was': Dan Shanower's brother on support for Naperville family after 9/11

  • Cmdr. Dan Shanower

    Cmdr. Dan Shanower

  • The Shanower family of Naperville, seen here at a 1999 family reunion, includes, from left, Jon, Vicki, Dan, parents Pat and Donald, Tom and Paula. Dan, who worked in Naval intelligence, died two years later in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon, leaving a hole in the hearts of his family, his brother, Tom, says.

    The Shanower family of Naperville, seen here at a 1999 family reunion, includes, from left, Jon, Vicki, Dan, parents Pat and Donald, Tom and Paula. Dan, who worked in Naval intelligence, died two years later in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon, leaving a hole in the hearts of his family, his brother, Tom, says. Daily Herald file photo, September 2003

  • A sculpture at the center of the Cmdr. Dan Shanower Sept. 11 memorial integrates 100 pounds of rubble from the damaged portion of the Pentagon, a twisted steel beam from the World Trade Center and granite from the Pennsylvania region where Flight 93 crashed after passengers took on the hijackers. A retaining wall serves as its backdrop, with more than 140 faces molded into the surface to symbolize those who died.

    A sculpture at the center of the Cmdr. Dan Shanower Sept. 11 memorial integrates 100 pounds of rubble from the damaged portion of the Pentagon, a twisted steel beam from the World Trade Center and granite from the Pennsylvania region where Flight 93 crashed after passengers took on the hijackers. A retaining wall serves as its backdrop, with more than 140 faces molded into the surface to symbolize those who died. Daily Herald file photo

 
 
Updated 9/10/2021 3:33 PM

Cmdr. Dan Shanower will forever be a 40-year-old Naval intelligence officer, frozen in time alongside the 2,976 other victims who perished in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

His death left a hole in the tight-knit Shanower family and the Naperville community where they grew up, so much so that life without his refreshing sense of humor, impressive negotiating skills and teasing arguments at the dinner table seemed unfathomable, said his older brother, Tom Shanower.

 

But Dan's parents and four siblings continued aging, his nieces and nephews have grown up, and the world, somehow, kept turning. Now two decades later, it's difficult for his loved ones to imagine an alternate reality in which tragedy didn't transform their lives -- and America -- forever.

"I've read stories about other families that have had difficulty moving on, but I think our family has provided a lot of mutual support for one another," said Tom, who now lives in the Washington, D.C., area. "We remember the times we were together, and of course Dan's presence is missed. But 20 years is a long time."

Known for his patriotism and sense of adventure, Dan Shanower was working at the Pentagon when the hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into his office. A memorial honoring him and all who died Sept. 11 has since become a focal point along the Naperville Riverwalk.

The theme of the sculpture, plaza and 48-foot retaining wall that serves as its backdrop derives from an article written by Shanower himself.

"Those of us in the military are expected to make the ultimate sacrifice when called. The military loses scores of personnel each year. Each one risked and lost his or her life in something they believed in, leaving behind friends, family and shipmates to bear the burden and celebrate their devotion to our country," he wrote. "Freedom isn't free."

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Dan's family also is carrying out his legacy through scholarships set up in his name at Naperville Central High School and Carroll College in Waukesha, Wisconsin, Tom said.

The passage of time hasn't changed his older brother's feelings on the attacks, but it has allowed him to reflect on the nation's level of unity in the aftermath and how tremendously that helped his family in the healing process.

"I think it's just important to remember this event and remember the response we had," Tom said.

"We think about how our country is today extremely divided on practically every issue," he continued. "It may be incomprehensible to people less than 20 years old how united the country was and how supportive the world literally was for the victims and their families."

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