Sunday, June 10, 2012

"THANK YOU" IS NOT ENOUGH - Marty F. Leoni, Jr.

All Saints Cemetery is a Catholic Cemetery that sits along the Des Plaines River in Des Plaines, Illinois.  It is the final resting place of many famous people - Cubs announcer Harry Carey, for example.  It is also the final resting place for Robert Piest, the first victim of serial killer John Wayne Gacy to be identified, and also of Matthew Eappen, the infant who died while under the care of British au pair, Louise Woodward. 

One of the greatest heroes to be buried at All Saints rests under a simple flat marker.  

He is Marty F. Leoni, Jr.  Marty is the first Evanston, Illinois firefighter to be killed in the line of duty in almost 100 years.  

Marty Leoni, Jr.

Marty died doing what firefighters do every day - he died trying to save the life of a baby trapped in a burning building.  I often say that any one of us would run into a burning building to save one of our loved ones, but firefighters run into burning buildings every day to save people they don't even know.
Here's a story about Marty's funeral from July, 1985:

Firefighters Pay Final Tribute To Marty Leoni Jr.
It was a sendoff Firefighter Marty Leoni Jr. would have loved.

On Friday morning fire vehicles from 70 communities and a funeral procession 2 miles long followed the pumper truck carrying Mr. Leoni`s body from St. Athanasius Catholic Church in Evanston to All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines.
Mr. Leoni, 27, died Monday while trying to rescue a one-month-old baby from the second story of a burning house in Evanston. He was the first Evanston firefighter to die on duty in 83 years.

"Marty died a hero," said his friend, James Fitzgibbons, in a funeral eulogy. "But everyone who knew Marty knew that Marty was a hero all of his life. . . .

He gave everything he had for his job. And, of course, his ultimate sacrifice was that he gave his life."

Mr. Leoni was a leader, associates said Friday. "This is the first time that I have not had Marty around to tell me how it should be done," Fitzgibbons said.

Mr. Leoni had attended St. Athanasius all his life and had been to Mass there last weekend. On his last visit to the church Friday, a symbolic fire bell tolled.

"Marty has completed his task, and the bell rings three times," said Joseph Planos, his shift commander. "Marty Leoni will be missed by the department, but he will never be forgotten."

As family members followed the flag-draped coffin out of the church, several hundred firefighters from all around Chicago stood at attention.

Rev. Thomas Lion, pastor of St. Athanasius, said Mr. Leoni had shown the courage that God asks of man. "If there was only one man to send into a home to bring someone out, it would be Marty," Father Lion said.

Mr. Leoni, an Evanston firefighter for four years, was searching for the infant on the upper floor of the house when he opened a door to a burning room. The influx of air caused an explosion that killed him. The child was found later and hospitalized for burns and smoke inhalation.
Chicago Tribune - July 27, 1985

Just in case you are wondering, there were two Evanston firefighters who died in the line of duty before Marty.  On December 13, 1905, Firefighters William Craig (no relation to me) and George Stiles made the supreme sacrifice in the discharge of their duties protecting life and property at the Clayton Mark Factory at Dempster and Dodge in Evanston.           

To say "thank you" to Marty Leoni or any of the other firefighters who put their life on the line every day is not enough, but it is a start.  The next time you see a firefighter take a minute to thank them for all they do to keep us safe.  

May Marty Leoni rest in peace.

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