Above / Commemorating Naperville native Naval Commander Dan Shanower who died in the attack on the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, the granite marker is among the lasting tributes to all who were killed that fateful day. Dedicated on Sept. 11, 2003, along the Riverwalk, the Cdr. Dan Shanower Sept. 11 Memorial attracts visitors to remember every day. (PN File Photo)
On September 11, 2001, I was on the Kennedy Expressway, heading back to the office with Joe, my partner, after covering an early morning lead in Chicago’s Northwest Side. We listened to the breaking news on the radio, in stunned silence.
When we arrived at 219 S. Dearborn, the city was emptying quickly, and by late afternoon it was a modern-day ghost town. The FBI had set up a Command Post, and leads were being furiously set and covered by every available agent. Late that night, several of us were told to go home, get some sleep and return the following morning for further assignments.
Driving home on the Eisenhower, listening on the radio to the non-stop coverage of the attacks, I heard of Cdr. Dan Shanower’s death in the Pentagon. The expressway was virtually empty, and having driven this route thousands of times, the car seemed to engage itself in autopilot as I began reminiscing about Dan.
My first memory was of three 4th graders, Dan, Kevin and me, playing in what now is appropriately named, “Shanower Family Field.” Back then there was a drainage ditch, (we called it a creek) that ran the length of the field, and on this particular day, it was swollen from recent rains. We all took turns jumping over it, daring each other to leap across it at its widest part. Kevin finally took the challenge and made it. Then I went and made it. Dan, though, must’ve taken a misstep and only his chin and hands rested on the opposite side, while his entire body plunged into the muddy, brown drainage water. We pulled Dan out, and we all laughed uncontrollably at his muddy and stinky clothes!
Fast forward about 15 years: I’m a newly designated Naval Aviator stationed in Pensacola, Florida, awaiting my orders that would finally get me to the Fleet. I had received a letter from my sister advising me that Dan had recently joined the Navy, and was going through AOCS in Pensacola. I drove to the base, located his Class Barracks and introduced myself to the Marine Gunny in charge of his Class. After I convinced him I had no ulterior motives in meeting with one of his Officer Candidates, the Gunny barked out, “Aviation Intelligence Officer Candidate Shanower, front and center – officer here to see you! NOW!”
Out of a room came Dan, head shaved, running full bore at the Gunny and me. At the last instant he stopped, braced against the wall, his eyes locked straight ahead, chin down, back ram rod straight, elbows back, thumbs along his trouser seams, heels together, and toes slightly apart.
“Sir YESSIR!” he screamed.
The Gunny rolled his eyes, shook his head and walked away.
I whispered, “Dan, it’s me.”
“Sir YESSIR!” he screamed again.
“No, Dan. It’s me, Pablo.”
He started to scream the programmed “Sir YESSIR,” but caught himself, looked at me in complete disbelief, wondering just what the heck I was doing there in his barracks! We stifled our laughter.
My recollection leapt forward another two years. By then I was a “salty” Lieutenant, assigned to a helo squadron aboard the USS MIDWAY, CV-41. In my best Hawkeye Pierce impersonation, I’m wearing a loud Hawaiian shirt, Bermuda shorts and flip flops. The boat has pulled into Subic Bay, and a couple of us are heading out for some liberty before the Battle Group’s scheduled six-month dreaded Indian Ocean deployment. Making our way through the MIDWAY’s myriad of passageways, we notice a slender, lanky, freshly-minted Ensign, carrying sea bags nearly as big as he, struggling to get over the “knee knockers” that the MIDWAY was infamous for. The Ensign looks exhausted, lost and frustrated.
Immediately, like all good sailors, we decide to give this FNG the business. If he felt overwhelmed then, wait until we were done with him. However, as we approach, and get closer, he begins to look familiar. Sure enough, it’s Dan! He’s just been assigned as the Intel Officer for the MIDWAY’s EA-6B jet squadron. He recognizes me and again, in complete disbelief, standing proud and loud in his blinding white, spotless summer uniform, asks me where the heck his stateroom is!
I finally pulled into my driveway.
The memories fade away and I realize just how much the Bureau, America and the World has changed in 24 hours.