Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Twelve Years Ago Today

Commander Dan Frederic Shanower
It must have been sometime in 1999 that I got a phone call out of the blue from Dan Shanower, someone I’d heard of but never met. He was interested in genealogical information on the Shanower family. At that time I wasn’t particularly interested in my family tree. My mother, however, had done a lot of genealogical research in the 1970s into both her family and my father’s family. I mentioned Mom to him, but Dan had already been in touch with her and they’d exchanged genealogical information.

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 saw other news stories about Dan, several featuring his parents Donald Thomas “Don” Shanower (b. 1921) and Patricia Ann “Pat” Gibbs Shanower (b. 1928). Eventually the news reported on a memorial to Dan Shanower being set up in his home town of Naperville, Illinois. In the early years of the last decade the Ozmapolitan Convention, the now-defunct midwest Oz convention, was held annually in Naperville, and I thought I would seek out the Dan Shanower memorial next time I attended. But I never made it to any of the Naperville Ozmapolitan Cons.

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.
In 2010 I became interested in my family genealogy. My mother turned over most of her genealogical records to me, including her correspondence with Dan. I got in touch with another family historian, Vel Shanower Kirchner, who’d been in close contact with Dan about their researches. Both Vel and Dan were intrigued by the gap in the family line between Jacob Shonauer and Henry Shanower. Dan had dug into the records of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, but like everyone else who’s tried to bridge that gap in the Shanower family, he failed. I’m indebted and grateful to Vel for sending me copies of Dan’s notes. I was glad to read them, since they contained information that I’d never run across before. I would have loved to share with Dan my possible solution to the gap in the Shanower/Shonauer line. But I can’t.

SPAWAR conference room dedication plaque beside door.
Vel Kirchner was also kind enough to put me in touch with Dan’s parents Don and Pat. In fall 2011 they invited me and David along with other local family members to a dedication of a conference room in Dan Shanower’s memory at the headquarters of the US Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) here in San Diego. It’s a high security facility.  To attend the ceremony we had to sign in, wear temporary identification badges, and be escorted each way between the entrance and the room that was being dedicated. The October 14, 2011, dedication of the conference room, which you can read about here, was spearheaded by Dan's friend and colleague Bob Poor.

In the conference room, now named "The Dan,"  I met his parents—my third cousins twice removed Don and Pat—for the first time. I gave Pat the letters my mother had received from Dan. (I kept photocopies, though, so my mom’s research files remain complete.) I also met one of Dan’s brothers, Jon, my fourth cousin once removed, a lawyer and mountain climber. Some of Dan’s colleagues from his time in San Diego and other family members also attended. The ceremony of dedication was tasteful, moving, and seemed short. The whole thing really made me wish I’d followed up that single phone call I had with Dan and gotten to know him better. Okay, so it was a memorial service and of course everyone was saying good things about him. But still, he sounded like a really fun guy.

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.

Shanower family at the conference room dedication. Left to right: Mary Ann Manley Fentress, Patricia Ann Gibbs Shanower (Dan's mother), Paul Robert Fentress, Eric Shanower, Donald Thomas Shanower (Dan's father), Jonathan Blake Shanower (Dan's brother).

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:



  1. Moving remembrance Eric and well written.

  2. Is it possible the Pentagon tragedy is downplayed because the government doesn't want to remind the world how vulnerable this building was? Thanks for keeping up with your blog; it is always interesting to read.

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