As a young Boy Scout, John Toner recalled reading an advertisement for the naval preparatory school in “Boy’s Life Magazine.” This was the first time he desired to join the Navy.
Years later, in 1950, during his second year at the University of Michigan, Toner decided to join the military on the eve of the Korean War. He still wanted to continue his education, however, for several reasons.
“I decided if I was to get in the service, I wanted to go as an officer.”
Toner was selective with his military education, turning down an open appointment to Westpoint in order to serve as the third alternate appointment into the Naval Academy. He cited higher academic standards as the primary reason for this decision.
Fate intervened, and each of the three people slated ahead of him backed out or failed to meet the standards of the Academy, which allowed Toner to accept the appointment instead in 1951. To this day, he attributes this turn of events to one particular source.
“I had a feeling that maybe it was God’s plan.”
Once arriving at the Academy, Toner quickly learned that it was not good to be new, as hazing was quite popular at the time.
“It was best to keep your mouth shut,” Toner remembered, “and they would focus on somebody else.”
During the course of his studies, his class was sent on several cruises, in which they would examine different aspects of the American war machine. In divided classes, the students traveled to Norway, Britain, Spain, and France where they learned about various combat equipment.
Graduating in 1955, Toner had a degree in German, and was sworn in as a second lieutenant. Nine days later, he wed Marilynn C. Allomong at the Edon United Methodist Church by an Army Reserves Chaplain. A month later, he joined the Marines and made for Quantico, Virginia for eight months of basic training. He chose to go into artillery.
While at Quantico, Toner received some criticism for spending time off the base with enlisted men. He wasn’t about to let that change his ways, though.
“When I’m in uniform, I’ll do whatever you tell me to.” Toner explained to a superior officer. “When I’m in civilian clothes, I’m going to live my life.”
After graduating from artillery school, Toner was shipped out to Camp Pendleton, a place he was stationed for one year. It was here that he first got into legal proceedings, serving as defense council for special court marshal proceedings before three judge tribunals. He practiced what he described as “honest law,” arguing not to win a case, but rather to do what was in the best interest of his client and the marine corps. Before leaving the camp, Toner was placed in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and even sat on some tribunals himself.
In 1957, Toner was sent to Oahu, Hawaii at Camp H.M. Smith, which was the headquarters for the Commander In Chief Pacific, or CINCPAC. At the time, only the Pentagon had more Generals and Admirals walking its halls.
While at Camp Smith, Toner was designated to the first ANGLICO division ever devised. ANGLICO stands for Air and Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, and its purpose, as the name suggests, is to spot enemy activity and call in naval gunfire and airstrikes to support ground forces.
A year later, Toner’s unit, which consisted of 40 men, a mixture of officers and enlisted men, was airlifted from Oahu to Taegu, Korea. Their base of operations in Korea was a Japanese base constructed between the years of 1905-45, and it was close to the regiment they were assigned to support. The structure lacked common appliances often taken for granted, and Toner’s unit had to use old oil barrels for stoves and fuel to start the fires. Needless to say, they were covered in soot whenever they got hungry.
Perhaps the most interesting portion of Toner’s tour in Korea, however, was the time he spent with a South Korean officer with which he was assigned to work. They were among the most awkward of companions, and for a very simple reason.
“He didn’t speak a word of English,” Toner said of his Korean partner, “and I didn’t know any Korean. We traveled the countryside like strangers.”
After returning from Korea, Toner wished to continue his education by obtaining a law degree from the University of Michigan. He had only one request of the Marines, which they were not able to grant.
“I only asked that my position wouldn’t be violated.”
As they would not do so, Toner resigned, and was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps, and pursued his law degree.
Marilynn took a first grade teaching job in Ann Arbor, which was the couple’s major source of income while Toner went back to school.
“She put me through law school.” Toner said of his wife.
Upon earning his law degree and passing the bar, Toner accepted a job with Newcomer, Schaffer, and Geesey. The Marines renewed their interest in Toner as well, offering him the rank of Major after passing the bar. He turned them down, however, as he’d already agreed to terms with Newcomer and Schaffer.
“My word is my bond.”
A year and a half later, Toner became involved in the Edon State Bank, where he served as both CEO and in-house lawyer. During his 47 years of involvement with the bank, Toner prides himself on significantly increasing the number of loans the bank made to young people, and not discriminating against anyone, which at one time went beyond government regulations.
The youth are especially important to Toner.
“I want them to have a better life.” He proclaimed. “The future of my country is in the hands of the young people.”
And the youth are so very impressionable. Something as simple as an issue of “Boy’s Life Magazine” can change the course of their whole life.
© 2014 – 2016, Forrest Church. All rights reserved.