Red Toon and my Dad, Joe McDevitt, served together as reserve officers in the Pacific war. They were real close. (See previous blog post dated August 28, 2017.) So as soon as I finished researching and writing All Came Home, I began researching Red’s story.
That story began at 12:00 Noon on October 29, 1940, when US Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson reached into a giant fishbowl and pulled out the first of 8500 numbered capsules. He opened the capsule and read the enclosed number: 1-5-8. One hundred and fifty-eight. Six thousand young men around the country gasped in surprise—and then probably—in shock. Registrants for the draft lottery assigned that number would be the first to be considered for military service in the coming conflict.
One of them was Francis W. Toon (AKA “Red” Toon, reflecting the color his hair turned as he aged). Red was a young science and mathematics teacher and athletics coach at Pleasant Plains High School in Illinois. He was one of four men in Sangamon County assigned number 158.
When I learned that Red had settled with his wife, Norma, in nearby Pleasant Plains in 1937, I began contacting friends there inquiring about Red and Norma. A research break came when a librarian provided the name of Mr. Bob White, a resident who had attended Pleasant Plains High School many years ago. Who knows, she wondered? Perhaps Bob might recall a teacher there named Red Toon.
What a break! Bob White had completed two years of science classes from Red Toon in the late 1930s. Bob and I quickly established an ongoing dialog. He tells me about Red Toon the science teacher, and I tell him about Red Toon, Assistant Boat Group Commander. I provided Bob a copy of All Came Home, and he has now learned more about the ship and crew with whom Red served.
I received a letter from Bob recently containing more recollections about Red. That letter includes the following passage:
“One thing I failed to mention about Warren (he’ll always be Mr. Toon to me) is that he never called the students by their first names. It was always” Mr. So and So” or “Miss So and So.” He was always friendly and accessible, but he never tolerated any nonsense. When he was in charge of Study Hall, nobody threw spit balls when his back was turned. The students respected him and he was probably the most popular teacher in school.”
My biggest break came when I located and visited Red Toon’s family in Jackson MS in Spring 2017. Most of the information in the posts to follow are based on documents shared by the Toon family.
Back to Red’s story…
After the draft lottery Red met with the Secretary of the draft board to learn more about his enlistment options. He learned about an Army Signal Corps officer training program designed to train candidates for a new technology—radar. The program skill requirements matched Red’s scientific skills and interests perfectly. It also carried an Army commission (2nd Lt.) upon completion. Red Toon applied, was accepted, and began training as a radar operator in Boca Raton FL in 1942.
Midway through the program a jurisdictional dispute arose between a civilian branch of the federal government versus the Army over who would have first access to graduates. When Red learned that graduates would be classified henceforth as civil servants rather than commissioned officers, he resigned immediately.
Serving his country in uniform was clearly important to Red Toon. I did not understand that motivation until I read a letter that he wrote Norma shortly thereafter. That letter was as strong a testimony of love-of-country as any I have read. We will post it soon, and you will better understand the kind of man Red was.
Letter from Mr. Bob White, August 4, 2017