Navy vet gets war letters from Marine vet of same name, trying to find kin
By Susan DeMar Lafferty email@example.com May 27, 2012 8:08PM
William John Toner, of Flossmoor, holds letters of a fellow Vietnam veteran by the name William J. Toner. He's hoping to get the letters to friends and family of the Vietnam veteran who shares his name. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 3, 2012 9:57AM
As soldiers are being remembered all across the country on Memorial Day, William J. Toner, a Navy vet, of Flossmoor, is hoping someone will recall U.S. Marine William J. Toner, of Chicago’s South Side.
Toner, father of SouthtownStar reporter Casey Toner, is on a quest to find the family and friends of a fellow Vietnam veteran who shares his name. The only clues he has are within the contents of an old box filled with 40 to 50 letters to and from Toner the Marine.
The origin of the box is a mystery in itself.
The letters — along with some World War II photographs — had been sitting in the box in art teacher Kara Morrissey’s classroom at Stagg High School, a former social studies room. She is going on maternity leave soon but didn’t want to leave this box behind. After a few Internet searches, she stumbled upon William John Toner, of Flossmoor, and thought she found the rightful owner.
Morrissey called Toner, who agreed to meet with her.
“I knew going over there, they couldn’t be my letters,” Toner said, even though both Toners served in Vietnam at the same time in 1968-69. His family lived in southern California at that time, not at 9155 S. Carpenter St. in Chicago — the return address on the Marine’s letters from home.
But Toner went to see Morrissey anyway and brought the letters home “to see if I could return them to the family,” he said.
He read through them, searching for clues and names, and found several.
On the back of one envelope from Connecticut is written: “William J. Toner Jr., Sergeant USMC, b(orn) 3-48, d(ied) 1-96.”
Toner also knew from searching records that Sgt. Toner survived the Vietnam war.
The Marine’s father was another William J. Toner, and his mother was simply referred to as “mom.”
“His parents were very patriotic, and were both concerned about him,” Toner said of the letters’ contents. “They were anxious to see him come home, but were very proud of him and didn’t want him to be like a hippie.”
The Marine would write about his training and going on patrols, but did not go into details — typical of wartime correspondence. The tone of these writings ran the gamut from whimsical to serious, Toner said.
In one letter, Sgt. Toner tells his mother not to send any more soap or deodorant.
“We are all so revolting in the field, it will do no good,” he wrote.
To the Toner who now holds the letters, they bring back memories of his own days in Southeast Asia.
There was the unending heat and humidity, and the lack of control a soldier has over his own life while serving in the military, Toner recalled.
“I have not re-read my own letters, but there are similarities to my own experiences,” he said.
There were other letters the Marine received, too, from friends, such as Ken Nieminski, Terry Osburn and Monica Stevens, all of Chicago; from Mrs. Jerry L. Skates, of Collinsville, and Kay and Evie, of Hazel Crest, and Frank Wozniak and D. Kennedy.
“I’m going to go to the library, take out a phone book and see if I can strike pay dirt,” Toner said of his search.
“It’s interesting,” Toner said. “I’m going to find someone. I have a few leads.”
He has more than one military mystery to solve, however.
The box also contains World War II photos and discharge papers for George Pinc, another Chicagoan. The photos appear to have been taken at a recovery unit, he said. All the medals Pinc is wearing leads Toner to believe “he was a good soldier.”
If Toner doesn’t find these families, he at least hopes to find a good home for this war memorabilia.
“They have historical value,” he said.
Anyone with information should contact Casey Toner at the SouthtownStar at (708) 802-8816, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.