|Commander Dan Frederic Shanower|
Dan explained he was in the US Navy and stationed in San Diego, the same town where I lived. He asked me whether I was the Eric Shanower who was a cartoonist. I told him I was. He mentioned that I was the Shanower who surfaced most prominently in internet searches for “Shanower.” That short phone call was the extent of my direct contact with my fourth cousin once removed Dan Frederic Shanower (1961-2001).
Twelve years ago today, on September 11, 2001, airplanes crashed into the two towers of New York City’s World Trade Center and into the Pentagon, headquarters of the US Department of Defense in Washington, DC. By that time Dan Shanower was no longer in San Diego. He was living in Vienna, Virginia, and working at the Pentagon in Naval Intelligence. He was one of the thousands of people killed in that day’s attacks.
I was listening to the radio that morning and heard the reports of the twin towers collapsing. I watched the television footage of people falling through the sky to their deaths and felt sickened like so many others.
But that day I had no idea that Dan Shanower was among those that died. I found out a few days later when fellow cartoonist Brent Anderson saw the name Shanower in a list of the dead and sent me an e-mail message about it.
Then I got a phone call from a local San Diego reporter. I assumed she was calling to interview me about my latest project A Thousand Ships, the first graphic novel in my Age of Bronze series, which had been published a few weeks before. But, no, she wanted to know whether I was related to Dan Shanower. I explained that I was, but I hadn’t really known him. My mother had been in closer contact with him, so I put the reporter in contact with her. Mom ended up sending the reporter a quote from one of the letters she got from Dan, but I don’t remember whether those words were used in a news story about him or not.
|The 911 Memorial in Naperville, Illinois.|
I finally visited the memorial about a year ago. It’s located on the riverwalk in downtown Naperville across the river from the public library. The memorial includes a girder from the World Trade Center, rubble from the Pentagon, and Dan's bootprint. A plaque features a photograph of Dan and a quote from a Proceedings Magazine article he wrote concerning four fellow Naval officers who were lost on an airplane mission during 1987’s Operation Earnest Will in the Indian Ocean. Titled “Freedom Isn’t Free,” the article is often quoted in writings about Dan and his death on September 11, 2001. However, I’m not going to quote it here—all the obvious irony has been wrung from it by now. But if you’re interested, you can read the article here.
|The Dan Shanower plaque at the Naperville Memorial.|
|SPAWAR conference room dedication plaque beside door.|
|Friends, colleagues, and family at the Dan Shanower Conference Room dedication.|
I admire Don and Pat Shanower, Dan’s parents. This wasn’t the first time Don lost close family in international conflict. His twin brother Paul Frederic Shanower (1921-1945), Bronze Star recipient, died in World War II. Don himself was wounded in World War II and received the Purple Heart. Don, a former college professor whose adventure with a theater ghost I wrote about here, is quiet and doesn’t say much. Pat does most of the talking. But I’ve never known either of them to be publicly bitter or strident about Dan’s death, despite the pain they’ve experienced over it.
As for me, I don’t want to be bitter or strident either. But I wish more people would remember that it wasn’t just the World Trade Center that was attacked on September 11, 2001. People died in the Pentagon, too. (And in the airplane that went down in Pennsylvania.) I suppose the World Trade Center is more shocking and memorable because there’s more video footage of the airplanes hitting the towers. The towers’ dramatic falls are burned into the retinas of a generation. And they were corporate offices and tourist destinations, not obvious military targets like the Pentagon is.
But the people who died in the Pentagon were just as human as those who died in the World Trade Center. They had loved ones and families, close and distant. I’m a distant relative of Dan Shanower, a man I hardly knew, and the affect his death had on me was in proportion to that distance. Still, he was related to me and that feels personal. Today, on this twelfth anniversary of his death, I want to acknowledge the horrors of armed conflicts between nations, I lament the loss of human life no matter who or where, and I hope for a better future where no one is forced to die violently at the hands of others ever again.
If you want to read more about Dan Shanower on the internet, there’s plenty to choose from. I’m still, as Dan pointed out, the Shanower that surfaces most prominently in internet searches. But he’s a close second. Here are some of the more interesting links to start with: