Today’s my dad’s birthday. He was born John Casey Toner on December 9, 1922. To most people, December 9th is not a day that stands out any differently than any other day on the calendar. No one gets the day off work. School is still in session and the mail is delivered as usual. But for me, it’s a very special day because my dad was an amazing man. He was a strong man. He was masculine when being such didn’t require an apology. And he was my hero and my friend. He lived through the Great Depression as a young boy. He fought as an Army paratrooper in WWII with the legendary 101st Airborne Division Screaming Eagles, Easy Company (the same company featured in Band of Brothers). He flew airplanes. And he jumped out of airplanes. Many summer nights he would regale the local neighborhood kids on our front porch with stories of jumping out of planes in Nazi territory in the pitch dark of night, not knowing how far he was from hitting the ground…or sometimes a tree. And we hung on every word.
Following his service to his country, he honorably served the city of Chicago as a police sergeant for 30 years. He raised a family of seven and sacrificed to send us all to Catholic schools and provide college educations for us. He was an artist and, at the begging of us kids, would sit at the kitchen table with us and say, “Okay what do you want me to draw?” And I would then watch the magic that he created. He took calligraphy classes at St Xavier College with my sister-in-law. Can’t imagine many daughters-in-law wanting to take a class with their husband’s father. But I always thought that was pretty cool. His handwriting and printing were pure perfections. He approached everything he did as an artist. He loved to cook and watching him slice a roast was a thing of beauty.
But the thing that will always stand out about him was his courage he displayed in the face of darkness. Without a care given to his reputation or his family, he was callously used as a pawn in the dirty politics of Cook County. He was considered nothing more than collateral damage as criminal charges were brought against him when he wouldn’t play along in their pursuit of much bigger game. The Cook County State’s Attorney thought with enough pressure and mounting charges placed against him, he would eventually break and say what they wanted to hear. But they thought wrong. I can still remember seeing him on the evening news exiting the courthouse. With microphones shoved in his face, his clear blue eyes looking earnestly at reporters he simply said, “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
After several long years of being dragged through the mud and the threat of prison looming, he was finally fully exonerated by a unanimous decision and acquitted of all fraudulent charges placed against him. That momentous event happened on this day: December 9, 1979. His birthday. He was honorably reinstated to the police force, given his stripes back and awarded full back pay for the years he’d been suspended.
During these years, I’m sure he must have been terrified. He still had seven kids at home. He couldn’t afford to lose his job, his salary, his benefits. But he never showed it. As my brother Kevin so eloquently put it, “He was an icepick in a frozen ocean.”
My dad passed away suddenly on August 17, 1987 at the age of sixty-four, the day after my son, Mike’s 1st birthday party. He left this earth on good terms with his family, his friends and God. And that is a great consolation to me.
Though my dad’s case was not part the much larger Greylord case, the tactics employed by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office with regards to the “Marquette 10” mimicked his case almost identically.
Yes, he was my hero and my friend. Happy Birthday Dad, ya done good 😌