September 9, 2021

Remembering 9/11, 20 Years Later in Naperville

Naperville Native Dan Shanower

Naperville native Dan Shanower was a Navy Intelligence Officer who was working at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

“That day he was at work in his office with the seven who worked for him seated around a table,”said Pat Shanower, Dan’s mother. “They had just had the word about the Twin Towers in New York which he had taken to the admirals and came back to his office to begin working the intelligence about that when the plane struck the Command Center.”

The family anxiously waited for word on Dan’s fate. “Our oldest grandson in that family was 10 years old and I vividly remember as we’re all around the TV he said ‘keep fighting uncle Dan, you can get out of the fire,'” said Pat.

But they knew in their hearts the news wasn’t good. “Our son John who was an attorney was home in Naperville and he was the one who got all the calls,” said Pat. “And finally he had to tell me not to be so optimistic about Dan’s survival because the Navy had called and he said you know Dan would have reported to the Navy if he were able to do so.”

When the final word did come, it was followed by a Naperville connection. “When the Virginia Fire and Rescue men found our son’s body he looked through his wallet and saw that he was from Naperville and so he called Chuck Wehrli who he knew. This man’s name was Mike Regan,” said Pat. “And he said tell the family if they’d like to talk to me I’d be willing to speak with them which I thought was a very magnanimous gesture. It took me a year before I was able to make that call to him.”

Chuck Wehrli

“Dan Shanower – basically his family grew up about two blocks away from me,” said Chuck Wehrli.

On September 11, 2001 Wehrli was a FEMA Urban Search & Rescue Safety Officer with Missouri Task Force 1. The retired Naperville Fire Department captain was called in to go to Ground Zero to help. As the safety officer, he was responsible for watching over his crew for 10 days.

“It’s kind of weird because it looked like a movie set. Because you never thought you would see something like that – 16 acres of debris like that and being a safety officer, what do you do?” said Wehrli. “We had to look for everything. We had the respirators on, we had to watch out for guys getting hurt from tripping or falling into voids. Our structure engineers were watching the other buildings. It was overwhelming.”

Anthony LaVacca

“It was a rough, rough experience,” said Doctor Anthony LaVacca. On that day 20 years ago, LaVacca from Naperville Dental Specialists was living and practicing in New York. After the attacks, he spent three months on the dental forensic team.

“It’s never an easy thing to go back and remember. It’s not a glamorous thing,” said LaVacca. “You just do it because you want to do it. You do it because you know you’re helping somebody who you don’t even know.”

Though it took an emotional toll, helping the loved ones of those lost “did give closure to the parents or whoever’s loved ones were missing. It was really rewarding,” said LaVacca.

Remembrance in Naperville

Naperville remembers that day every year. The city holds a 9/11 remembrance ceremony, honoring one of their own. The Dan Shanower Memorial was one of the first 9/11 memorials to be built in the u.s. it was thanks to private donations from the community that it came together.

“I remember some of the initial meetings that we did talk with the entire community as to what their ideas and input and it was filled to the brim at city hall [in the] council chambers and it was full, everybody wanted to do something. Everybody wanted to in some way give back and give support,” said Vernoica Porter who was actively involved with the memorial committee.

Coming Together

The memorial represents that unity as the sculpture combines a steel beam from the World Trade Center, granite from Pennsylvania where Flight 93 crashed, and rubble from the damaged part of the pentagon to be forever remembered. 20 years later, it’s the same theme that endures.

“I want to go back to September 12, 2001. Because that’s the day when everybody had American flags out. Everybody had American flag stickers on their vehicles. New York they were handing out flags to us,” said Wehrli. “That was when we saw this country unite.”

“It brought New York together as a community. You had people from all around the United States coming – firemen, policemen, civil service people, everybody came together as a whole, as a nation,” said LaVacca.

“If we knew each other better, understood each other better, that we could avoid another day like this from happening,” said Pat.

Naperville News 17’s Aysha Ashley Househ reports.

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