By Christine Rosalin
PEARL HARBOR (NNS) -- Naval Facilities Engineering Command Pacific Commander Rear Adm. Bret Muilenburg met with football players with California's Westlake High School, the alma mater of Fallen Warrior, U.S. Navy Seabee Lt. j.g. Francis "Frankie" L. Toner IV, Aug. 21.
The 151 players came to Hawaii to compete against Kamehameha School and Waipahu High School. Between games, the team held a memorial in honor of two former players who died while serving their country, U.S. Army Spc. A.J. Castro and Toner.
"We are very proud of Lt. j.g. Toner here," Muilenburg said. "I was his commander, and I remember how brave he was. While most people would run from bullets fired by enemies, Toner ran toward the enemy insurgent to try to save his teammates. Toner was ultimately devoted. He never quit and always had a smile on his face. Toner was humble and always did the right thing when no one was looking."
The admiral went on to share how Toner applied the principles he learned at Westlake to his military career emphasizing how service members and football players alike need to remain mentally and physically ready. Muilenburg then thanked the players for carrying on Toner's message.
After spending time with the admiral, the players and their entourage toured the USS Arizona Memorial, where they paid tribute to Castro and Toner. During the memorial, a total of 300 participants including players, coaches, cheerleaders, families and friends dropped hundreds of flower petals into the waters of Pearl Harbor.
"I feel this memorial is everything I hoped it to be for our players," said Jim Benkert, head coach and athletic director of Westlake High School. "To hear them lead the moment of silence, pay respect to the lives of all fallen warriors and having all 300 attend this memorial it couldn't be any better."
During the memorial Benkert reflected on his memories of Toner and Castro.
"When Frankie Toner played for me, he was all about the team," Benkert said. "He was not about stats. I recall a conversation with his coach at Kings Point, where he went after graduating from Westlake. His coach there told me he has never coached a player more about team than Frankie Toner."
"A.J. [Castro] was a kid who got the best of his ability," Benkert said. "He was dedicated to being the best he could be. We're real proud of both of them. Both attempted to save their fellow soldiers as in the Band of Brothers. That's what it's all about."
The team adopted the Band of Brothers' theme and wears the screaming eagle emblem of the Army's 101st Airborne Division on their helmets. The emblem represents the unit Castro served. The school also established the Frankie Toner Memorial Award in 2009. It is awarded to the player who embodies the true definition of team, and to the player who sacrificed their own personal goals and ambitions for the success of the team.
Before the admiral said farewell to the players, he said he often wondered where Toner came from. He then pointed to the crowd and said, "He comes from you; and I encourage each of you to strive to be like him."