July 1, 2012
After 60 years, hero receives marker
Firefighters John Scheinpflug and Justin Kreimes stand guard as Debbie McCann, who was rescued by firefighter John Minich when she was in her mother's womb, places flowers near his grave during a ceremony at All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines on June 23. The ceremony honored forgotten Chicago Fire Department hero John Minich, who died in the line of duty at age 44 in 1952. His grave went unmarked until June 23, 2012. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World
A newspaper article on display at the ceremony reports the tragic account where Firefighter John Minich died after saving several lives. Minich is pictured in the clipping. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World
Newspaper articles on display at the ceremony, report the tragic account in which Firefighter John Minich died after saving several lives. Fireman stand guard near a grave during a ceremony at All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines on June 23 to honor forgotten Chicago Fire Department hero John Minich, who died in the line of duty at age 43 in 1952. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World
Fireman stand guard near a grave during a ceremony at All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines on June 23 to honor forgotten Chicago Fire Department hero John Minich, who died in the line of duty at age 43 in 1952. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World
Chicago firefighter John Minich died a hero. Nearly 60 years after the fact the headstone on his grave at All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines announces that to the world. The new headstone was obtained and installed with the help of firefighters, Mount Emblem Cemetery and Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Chicago, after a woman that he saved — in her mother’s womb — learned that his grave was unmarked.
“He was a hero,” said McCann, who has known the story ever since she can remember. “The last life he saved was my mother’s.”
Minich was working in the early hours of Oct. 25, 1952, when he was among the firefighters called to a blaze at the Argyle Hotel and Apartments, 1057 W. Argyle. He is credited with rescuing 10 people that night.
According to the story, McCann’s mother was standing in a third-floor window while people on the street encouraged her to jump into the net firefighters held below her. She was yelling something to them, but they couldn’t understand.
So Minich — without a respirator in 1952 — climbed up through the smoke and fire to get her, and discovered why she wouldn’t jump: She was well into her last month of pregnancy. As he helped her downstairs, he told her he had five children at home and how important it was to live for them.
“He must have been trying to distract her from the situation,” said John Stewart, longtime friend of McCann’s and a field man for Catholic Cemeteries who helped her find the grave. “Because later, in our research, we found out that he and his wife didn’t have any children.”
McCann said that maybe she heard the story wrong; maybe he was talking about children he hoped to have. In any case, she said, her mother told her they talked about baby names.
“And he said the 23rd Psalm with her, and he took off his crucifix and put it in her hand,” Mc- Cann said. “She still had it when she went into the ambulance.”
He saw McCann’s mother into the ambulance, and after it pulled away, he collapsed at the fire scene. His death was ruled as a heart attack, caused by smoke inhalation. He was 44 when he died. Eleven days later, McCann’s mother gave birth to her.
As the 60th anniversary of the fire approached, McCann asked Stewart to find out where Minich was buried, and he found a listing for him at All Saints. But when he went to look at the gravesite, there was no headstone.
“A lot of his wife’s brothers and sisters were buried in the area, and they all have headstones, all except for John Minich and his wife, Marie,” Stewart said.
“It was some kind of oversight. Somehow this just all fell through the cracks.”
That oversight was remedied June 23 with the installation of the new stone, which has an image of a guardian angel and the word “Hero” along with Minich’s name.
“I always said he was my guardian angel,” McCann said.