On September 11, 2001, our country suffered the worst terrorist attack ever to occur on American soil when nearly 3,000 Americans lost their lives.
Thirteen years after that tragic day, Naperville still rallies together to show we will never forget.
Residents gathered along the Riverwalk to honor and remember those lost on 9/11 at the annual ceremony, hosted by the City of Naperville and the Naperville Exchange Club.
Among them was Brian Hastings, a New York Detective who spoke about his time working at Ground Zero.
“We are here I feel to keep these memories alive,” said Hastings. “And to keep those who we lost alive in our minds and in our hearts.”
The attacks still hit especially close to home. Naperville Native and Naval Commander Dan Shanower was working at the Pentagon and was killed when American Airlines Flight 77 hit.
“If we don’t keep remembering, we won’t profit from the errors we made in the past,” said Pat Shanower, Dan’s mother. “You need to know your history to do a better job in the future.”
Naperville’s 9/11 Memorial, one of the first of its kind in the country, was erected to honor Shanower who is remembered for saying “Freedom Isn’t Free.”
Earlier in the day, former Aurora resident Joe Dittmar visited Waubonsie Valley High school to speak to students about his 9/11 story.
Dittmar was in the South Tower that day for an insurance meeting on the 105th floor, but the meeting never started. He was in the process of evacuating down a stairwell near the 74th floor, when the second plane hit between floor 78 and 82.
“Concrete [was] shattering out. Handrails [were] breaking off the wall,” explained Dittmar. “The fire retardant material coming down on us like snow. We feel this heat ball blowing by us and smell this jet fuel and the steps are undulating underneath our feet like waves in the ocean.”
Of the 54 executives invited to the meeting, only seven survived. Dittmar said he would forever remember those first responders who gave their lives to save others.
“They knew that they were going up and they knew that they wouldn’t be coming back,” said Dittmar. “They just knew, and they went anyway.”
Dittmar’s presentation really hit home with many students – who were under the age of 5 in 2001.
“Don’t take things for granted,” said Waubonsie Valley senior, Keaton Casey. “He told us to make sure to hug our mothers, hug our familes, because they’re all important.”
Although it’s tough for Dittmar to relive that fateful day – he continues to tell his story to keep the memory alive of those who weren’t so lucky.
“To give a voice to the 3,000 who lost their lives that day and so that they can once more be heard,” said Dittmar. “And to allow their spirits, so senselessly slashed that day to rise again. And to let them know that while they may have been lost, their lives were not lost in vain.”
Dittmar visited Waubonsie Valley High School to tell his account of that day for the first time 12 years ago on the one year anniversary of 9/11.
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