Eleven years ago America was faced with the biggest terrorist attack ever to occur on American soil. On September 11th 2001, two planes were hijacked by al-Qaeda and crashed into the World Trade Center, another into the Pentagon and one in a Pennsylvania field.
America rallied together to show support for the nearly 3,000 lives lost that day.
Eleven years later Naperville still gathers to show that we will never forget.
Hundreds lined the Riverwalk at the Commander Dan Shanower Memorial for a ceremony remembering the events of 9/11, hosted by the City of Naperville and the Naperville Exchange Club.
Among them was a survivor of the attacks. Former Aurora resident Joe Dittmar was in the South Tower that day. He was there for an insurance meeting on the 105th floor, but the meeting never started. Of the 54 executives in the meeting, only seven survived.
“For those of us who made it below the 78th floor and survived, we never even truly understood what occurred,” said Dittmar. “The second plane plowed through our building, just a few floors over our head. But we did see something in that fire stairwell that was amazing, and it was an amazing residual in a horrific scene. We saw the human spirit immediately at its finest.”
The city has celebrated this spirit every year since the attacks to pay their respects for the men and women killed in the tragedy.
The Naperville Municipal Band played patriotic songs, the color guards presented the colors, and the fire department lowered the flag to half-staff.
Fire Chief Mark Puknaitis talked about the risk those in public service face everyday, and how 9/11 has made America stronger than ever.
“The events of 9/11 did not weaken us, or cause us to fail,” said Puknaitis. “We have in fact built up our forces, succeeded in countering terrorism in these 11 years, we have learned from our experiences, we have endured the pain, and we will continue to be prepared for the unexpected.”
Police Chief Bob Marshall referenced country singer Alan Jackson’s popular song dedicated to 9/11, Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning).
“During an interview, Jackson said he thought he would perform the song for a little while and it would quickly fade away,” said Marshall. “It hasn’t and it mustn’t. We must always remember the victims and the heroes who died just doing what they do on that September day when the world stopped turning.”
Naperville native Dan Shanower was in the Pentagon on that September day when American Airlines Flight 77 hit. The Navy Commander died in the attack, and is honored every year at the ceremony.
“Dan was an outstanding officer with clear admiral potential, a bonafide superstar,” said Marty Walker, Americanism Committee Chair for the Naperville Exchange Club.
Pat and Don Shanower laid a wreath on their son’s memorial. Eleven years later, they’re still amazed at the support and love Naperville shows every September 11th.
“I think everyone was touched in a different way by that day,” said Pat. “Like our generation was with Pearl Harbor, it changed your outlook on life. So we’re glad this many people remember and come down to observe.”
Naperville was one of the first cities to dedicate a memorial for September 11th. Named after Shanower, it features rubble from the Pentagon, a beam from the World Trade Center, and granite from the Pennsylvania field.
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