Naperville remembers 9/11 at 2023 ceremony

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On Monday, September 11, 2023, Naperville held its annual 9/11 remembrance ceremony in the council chambers at City Hall in Downtown Naperville. The event reflects on the lives lost and put in danger during the 9/11 terrorist attacks and acts as Naperville’s ongoing commitment to honor those who sacrifice their well-being to serve and protect the community. This year’s Naperville 9/11 remembrance ceremony moved indoors due to incremental weather and was sponsored again by the area Exchange Club of Naperville.

The evening began with the Naperville Municipal Band playing a selection of patriotic music, followed by opening remarks from Marty Walker of the Exchange Club of Naperville and Mayor Scott Wehrli. The colors were presented by a combined color guard from the Naperville Fire and Police Departments, the American Legion Post 43, and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3873. The Firefighter Highlands Guard played a moving rendition of “God Bless America.”

Tower 1 survivor speaks at the Naperville 9/11 remembrance ceremony

Sharing the podium with Fire Chief Mark Puknaitis and Police Chief Jason Arres, who both spoke of the dedication and sacrifice police and fire personnel subject themselves to in the interest of keeping us safe, was Dan Bacso a survivor of the World Trade Center attacks of September 11th. Bacso was on the 57th floor of Tower 1 when the plane hit, and shared his miraculous story of survival and reflected on the bravery of first responders on that day.

Shanower Memorial Monument 20th anniversary

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the dedication of the Commander Dan Shanower Memorial titled, “Freedom Isn’t Free.” The  Memorial is located between the DuPage River and the Municipal Center in downtown Naperville. The monument symbolizes Naperville’s continued respect for those lost during the 9/11 tragedy and those who make the ultimate sacrifice to work towards our freedom as a nation.

The memorial is based on and named after the article “Freedom isn’t Free” written by Commander Dan Shanower himself, in which he stated:

“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…Freedom isn’t free.” Commander Shanower made the ultimate sacrifice for his country when he lost his life during the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon.

The memorial showcases over 130 faces created by Naperville schoolchildren to symbolize this message. The faces, representing the many casualties of 9/11, are displayed on a 48-foot wall. Also included is an eternal flame in the center of the monument to represent the legacy of those lost living on through remembrance and honor. The central sculpture, designed by artist Bill Cooper, includes 100 pounds of rubble from the Pentagon, where a hijacked plane struck ultimately claiming 125 lives, Commander Shanower included.  Also featured is a twisted steel beam from the World Trade Center, and granite from the area in Pennsylvania where Flight 93 crashed after passengers took on the hijackers. Carved into the sculpture is an outline of Commander Shanower’s boot print, the insignias of New York area rescue workers, and the number “93,” in memory of the Pennsylvania crash victims.

Commander Shanower grew up in Naperville and attended Naperville public schools. He later graduated from Carroll College in Wisconsin and went on to join the Navy, where he was commissioned as an officer in 1985. Commander Dan F. Shanower, 40, is remembered for his strong patriotism, sense of humor, longing for adventure, and dedication to serving those around him.


Check out more events in the Naperville community.