“As most of you know, Frankie played football at Westlake HS where I had the privilege to coach him. And let me tell you…it was a privilege. He was a coach’s dream, a real leader. He had that contagious smile that lit up the room when he entered and the biggest heart anyone could ever have. He would do anything for anyone.
We played a game in Hawaii a few seasons ago and there was Frankie standing on the sidelines, hugging the coaches, and players he didn’t even know. I didn’t even know he was stationed in Hawaii. He just found a way to be there. That was just Frankie.”
He came to a game this year with his beautiful wife. He was so proud of her. He hugged all the coaches again and introduced her to everyone. He was back on the sidelines feeling at home. That was just Frankie.
He was honored as the Outstanding Back during his senior year, but he was much more than that to our coaches and players. He was the heart and soul of the team, the emotional and spiritual leader, the rock and the support all on his broad shoulders.
During the spring of his senior year Frankie asked me to write a letter of recommendation for the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. I was proud that he decided to go to the Academy and continue to play the game of football. The last few words of that recommendation were:
I have found him to be a responsible, enthusiastic, and competent young man, anxious to help, of high moral principles, and one of unique ability to stand up for what is right, even if he is standing alone. Perhaps it is an indication of his personality and proficiency that he is respected and popular with faculty and students alike.
I am happy to recommend Frankie for whatever endeavors he chooses because he is one of the best our society has to offer!
There is no greater sacrifice that one can give than to die for another.
The actions of patriots like Frankie are far more eloquent than any words I can offer. At places like Lexington and Leyte Gulf, from Iwa Jima and the Anbar Province, these courageous heroes wrote new chapters in the story of freedom.
When he dedicated the battlefield at Gettysburg in 1863, Lincoln spoke of the inadequacy of words on occasions such as these: “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”
And so it is with us today. The eloquence of words cannot match the power of the sacrifices made by so many. We honor one of them today. We praise him. We remember him.
And we do something else also: we acknowledge that his sacrifice—and the struggle to be free—goes on today. Like rivers flowing to the sea, so too all the battles in our history are connected to the larger struggle for freedom.
The troops in Afghanistan and Iraq today are the direct descendants of the troops at Yorktown and Normandy. The battlefronts may be different. The weapons may have changed. But the fight is the same. We know that to protect our freedom at home we must promote freedom throughout the world.
Of course, our greatest asset was and is our men and women in uniform. Like Frankie, many of them are on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq, serving as SEALS, SEABEES, intelligence officers or medics.
More than 20 years ago, in his farewell address to the nation, President Ronald Reagan told the story of a sailor on the U.S.S. Midway. The sailor was on the deck one day as a small boat filled with Indonesian refugees approached. One of the refugees shouted out in a loud voice: “Hello, American sailor! The sailor quickly responded “Hello, freedom man!”
May we never forget men like Frankie Toner who died for our freedom at home and abroad.
The greatest tribute we can offer to those who have died is to wave the banner of freedom proudly.
Westlake High School and the US Merchant Marine Academy football team will be wearing #46 on their helmets this year and the Toner Award will be awarded every year to one member of the football team that puts the team above himself. It will be for the player who embodies the true definition of team, someone who went above and beyond and sacrificed their own personal goals and ambitions for the success of the team. It is awarded to the player who exemplifies the character and spirit of Frank Toner.
May God bless you all. ” – Head Coach Jim Benkert, Westlake High School Football Team