On February 8, 1944, Lt. (jg) Joseph B. (Joe) McDevitt received a long-awaited set of personnel orders from the US Navy. An untested boat group commander, McDevitt had helped lead a battalion of sailors and junior officers through the Navy’s Introductory and Advanced Amphibious Training programs at Little Creek VA and Ft. Pierce FL, respectively. By early 1944 there was a big operation brewing in the Pacific. The Navy needed more ships and amphibious forces; they needed them NOW.
McDevitt’s orders were to proceed immediately with 125 sailors and 15 ensigns to the naval shipyard in New York harbor and to report for duty aboard a brand new attack transport, the USS Leon APA 48.
The Navy’s official file photo below was taken on the day Leon was commissioned, February 15, 1944.
The first two officers on McDevitt’s roster were his assistant boat group commanders, Ensigns Orville W. Terry and Francis W. (Red) Toon. The Navy soon learned that Terry was a gifted navigator, so he was reassigned full-time as Leon’s Assistant Navigator. Thus when Leon put to sea for Pearl Harbor, Joe and Red began working together to finalize preparations for the island hopping campaign ramping up in the Pacific theater.
They had some amazing experiences in the next few years. They trained aboard Leon and qualified as Deck Officer (Joe) and Assistant Deck Officer (Red). They spent countless hours out on the ocean in small boats (LCVPs) with their men. The goal: To prepare them to put the boots on the beaches—any beach, any time. And they shared a small sea cabin from which they wrote leters home to their wives, Kathleen (McDevitt) and Norma (Toon).
Now, let’s scroll forward to today. I recently spent five years researching and writing All Came Home, a story about my Dad’s (Joe McDevitt’s) wartime record. One of my priorities when I finished was to continue my (so-far) unsuccessful search for Red Toon’s family. I had found only one small (group picture) of Red Toon to include in All Came Home, but I always sensed that there were more stories and shared experiences there.
In March 2017 my wife Barb and I discovered that Red’s daughter, Betty Toon Collins (and husband, Frank) were living and practicing law in Jackson MS. After a two-day visit we returned home with copies of pictures, letters, and documents as well as an oral history that Red had recorded for his family. We have labelled these historical treasures the Toon Family Collection.
We needed some time to research these materials and to relate them to our other sources; that work continues today. But we wish to begin today to introduce you to Red Toon through a series of blog posts based on our findings. We begin with a favorite picture of Red Toon, one of the many young heroes who served aboard the Leon. From his shoulder boards, we believe this picture was taken late in the war after he earned a prmotion to Lt. (jg).
As we tell Red Toon’s stories in future posts, we hope that you will contact us if some of the pictures and/or stories are familiar!