Brooke Toner: Life After the Knock on the Door
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sep. 24, 2011 Brooke Toner was 28 years old the day she heard the knock on her door.
Brooke Toner, wife of Navy Lt. j.g. Francis L. Toner IV, addresses audience members after being presented the Silver Star in honor of her husband at the at the U.S. Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C., Sept. 23, 2011. DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
That knock brought the news every military spouse dreads: for Brooke, it meant her husband of less than three years was never coming home.
“It was the worst day of my life,” she told the capacity crowd gathered at the Navy Memorial here yesterday for the award ceremony honoring her husband, Navy Lt. j.g. Francis L. Toner IV.
Toner died in Afghanistan while defending fellow service members from an enemy who had infiltrated the Afghan National Army. The Americans were unarmed and on a physical training run when the gunman started shooting. Toner accosted the man and bought time for another service member to seek help.
After Brooke accepted her husband’s posthumous Silver Star from Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, she told American Forces Press Service how she felt about the event, and how her life has changed since that knock on the door in 2009.
Surrounded by hundreds of friends, family, and ‘Frankie’ Toner’s fellow sailors, she said, “I’m just so proud of my husband. It’s as simple as that. I’m just proud that he’s a man who lived the way he did, who loved me the way that he did, just who he was as a person.”
Toner was a great friend, brother, support system to others and a Navy officer, she said.
“He was just so incredible,” she added.
Their first date was six years to the day before he was killed March 27, 2009, she said.
“I knew him for seven months before that; we started dating in 2003, and we were married in 2006,” she said. “We were married for two years, seven months, eight days.”
Brooke said she is now involved in the American Widow Project, which a fellow military widow, Taryn Davis, founded after her own husband was killed.
On the group’s website under “our mission,” visitors will find this:
“Since 2001, nearly 6,000 U.S. service members have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Around half of these service members were married, leaving an estimated 3,000 military widows across our country. While the service member’s sacrifice is acknowledged, many simply forget or fail to recognize the sacrifice of the spouse who is now left a widow of war. Oftentimes the invisible wounds of military widows are disregarded due to age or a simple lack of knowledge and understanding.
"The American Widow Project is a non-profit organization dedicated to the new generation of those who have lost the heroes of yesterday, today and tomorrow, with an emphasis on healing through sharing stories, tears and laughter … military widow to military widow.”
Brooke said the organization “means a lot to me, because I know how alone I felt. Just being able to meet with other women who understand the love that I have for my husband, and understanding that it’s forever.”
The group is “full of love, full of life, full of laughter, surprisingly,” she said. “For me to be able to let another widow know that they’re not alone, through the organization – I couldn’t ask for a better gift, because I know how I felt.”
In the two and a half years since her husband died, Brooke said, she has moved back to Idaho, where her “entire family” lives.
“After not living there for 12 years, I decided it would be a good support system at home, which is wonderful,” she said.
She also got a dog, which she named Kailua after the place she lived with her husband in Hawaii.
“I call him Kai. We picked out the name – we wanted to name our pets after places where we had lived,” she added.
Brooke said she travels to retreats “with the widows” and helps Davis with the group in any capacity she can.
“I’m just keeping busy. Each day I wake up and say, ‘I’m going to have a good day today.’ Because it’s not always easy,” she said. “So I make myself smile, and I find a way to really live and love life, the way me and Frankie lived and loved life.”