It took 66 years, but U.S. Army Private First Class Edward L. O’Toole, a San Francisco native, is finally home from World War II.
O’Toole was buried today with full honors at a service at . He died in November 1944, but his remains were not discovered until late 2009.
Some 300 people attended the service, including veterans, representatives of veterans groups and civilians who had read about O’Toole in an article in Thursday’s San Francisco Chronicle.
Until yesterday, it was believed that O’Toole had no living relatives. A distant cousin, Barry Berg, who lives in the same house on San Francisco’s Potrero Hill where O’Toole grew up, happened to see the article and contacted the paper.
“I was jolted when I saw it,” said the 68-year-old Berg, who was only 2 years old when O’Toole went missing.
“I remember my mother told me about him when I was about 16, but then she never talked about it," he said.
Edward O’Toole was born in San Francisco on March 16, 1921, the youngest of seven in an immigrant Irish Catholic family. Berg said that he also had a sister who died when she was only 6.
O’Toole attended San Francisco’s now-closed High School of Commerce, graduating in 1940. His high school yearbook reveals the patriotic tenor of the times, with silhouettes of battleships, fighter planes and American flags prominently featured. The graduating seniors were asked what they would do to defend their high school and America. O’Toole had a one-word answer: fight.
Army records show that O’Toole enlisted in the army in San Francisco on Dec. 7, 1942, exactly a year after Pearl Harbor and two years after graduating from high school. He was 21 and single, stood 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighed 161 pounds. He listed his occupation as an electrician’s apprentice.
Almost two years later, on Nov. 20, 1944, O’Toole was killed in action in Süggerath, a town in the western part of Germany. He was among 2,000 men who died during a three-day battle for control of several German towns in the Süggerath area. O’Toole was 23 years old.
In late 2009, a German national digging in a forested area around Süggerath discovered O’Toole’s skeletal remains. O’Toole’s dog tags were the only things intact. The army later found his dental records and made a final identification.
When the army went searching for his next of kin, they came up empty handed. Somehow they had missed Barry Berg.
However, O’Toole’s family hadn't forgotten him after the war. In the 1950s, his mother and one of his sisters asked the Army to provide a memorial headstone for him in the San Bruno cemetery. The Army finally complied in 1961.
Berg said that he and his family spent many Thanksgivings and Christmases at the O’Tooles’ home when he was growing up.
Berg’s life took him out of the Bay Area for a time, but he came back in the late ‘70s when his mother asked him to take care of two of O’Toole’s ailing elderly sisters. When they died, he inherited O’Toole’s Purple Heart—awarded posthumously—and the telegram the O’Toole family received that declared Edward missing in action.
O’Toole's remains will lie alongside those of a brother, Michael O’Toole, who served in the U.S. Navy in World War II and who was killed in an accident in 1951.