Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Toast to fallen sailor goes viral


A bar patron's toast to a fallen sailor has become a phenomenon on Facebook.

On March 28, Hannah Hobbs, a waitress at a Bennigan's restaurant near Borger in the Texas Panhandle, posted a photo of a glass of beer, with a handwritten note from the customer that read:

In memory of Lt. j.g. Francis Toner, USN.
Killed in action 27 March 2009,
Baikh Province, Afghanistan
"Non Sibi Sed Patriae"

In her photo caption Hobbs explained:

"This guy came in today and asked if it was ok if he left this on the bar.. I cried I left it there until like 11:30 tonight.... I didn't want to pour it out but I had to. So I'm posting this pic so it can stay forever!! So can I get some likes people??"

Yes, yes she could get some likes. As of 10 p.m. ET Monday, Memorial Day, 1,239,045 people had clicked the "Like" button, and the numbers were continuing to skyrocket as the image was shared more than 117,000 times.

Toner, from Narragansett, Rhode Island, was one of two sailors killed when an Afghan National Army soldier opened fire on four officers who were jogging along the perimeter of Camp Shaheen in Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan, on March 27, 2009. After the shooting began, Toner, who was unarmed, verbally challenged the attacker and continued to advance until he was fatally wounded. His actions distracted the attacker from shooting other wounded officers and allowed another officer to seek help. For his actions, Toner was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, the nation's third-highest military decoration for valor. He was 26.

Lt. j.g. Francis Toner IV was awarded a posthumous Silver Star for his courage in Afghanistan.

Toner is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, whose website carries a news obituary written by Paul Davis of the Providence (Rhode Island) Journal. He was born in Panorama City, California, was an athlete and homecoming king at Westlake High School in suburban Los Angeles and trained at the Merchant Marine Academy on Long Island, New York, according to the article and Navy information on the website.

When he was killed, Toner was a week away from a leave of absence to visit his wife, Brooke, in Idaho, the article said. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, personally handed the Silver Star to Brooke Toner during a ceremony in September 2011.

"He was basically walking straight into the enemy's fire," Mullen said. "We shouldn't - and we won't - ever, ever forget that service, that sacrifice. Because that is what makes us strong, as a military and as a nation."

Toner faced death "tragically and heroically," Mullen said.

Hobbs, the Bennigan's waitress, said she has been surprised by the Facebook community's strong reaction.

"I never meant it to be more than a personal gesture," she said in a Bennigan's news release. "I felt taking a photo and sharing it on Facebook would keep the memorial alive. Several family and friends have served in the military, and I feel we don't do enough as a country to show our appreciation to those that put their lives on the line to keep us safe."

Taking a cue from Hobbs, the restaurant chain has created the "Bennigan's Wall of Heroes." Patrons may purchase a beer and leave a note for any member in the U.S. military, past or present.

Pictures of the beer and note should be posted on the company's Facebook timeline. Bennigan's has pledged to donate $1 for every photo, through Memorial Day, to , a nonprofit organization that provides emergency financial and other assistance to the families of our service members and wounded warriors.

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