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60 years later, hero firefighter gets grave marker -- thanks to child of pregnant woman he saved

CHICAGO -- Firefighter John Francis Minich died after saving many lives from a burning building 60 years ago, but until Saturday there was nothing to mark his grave site.

“One of the lives saved that day [was] my mother, pregnant with me,” said Debbie McCann, who discovered Minich’s unmarked grave and brought it to the attention of officials.

The Chicago Fire Department along with the Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2 joined with McCann Saturday afternoon to honor the anniversary of Minich’s death with a permanent grave marker.

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His name is etched in granite at the Stockyard memorial and his badge is mounted on the Wall of Honor at the Quinn Fire Academy in memory of his heroic actions. However, there was nothing to honor the hero in the All Saints Cemetery, where his body was laid to rest.

“This was something that had to be made right,” said Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2 President Tom Ryan. “He gave his life and made the ultimate sacrifice for the people he served, and that needed to be recognized.”

McCann’s mother was one of 12 people Minich rescued during an arson fire on Oct. 25, 1952. After carrying the pregnant mother to safety, he took off his crucifix and put it in her hand, said McCann, who considered him her guardian angel.

Shortly after the rescue he collapsed and was taken to the hospital, where he died. Doctors described the cause of death as a heart attack and smoke inhalation. Minich was 43 years old.

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McCann began searching for her guardian angel and tracked down his grave site at All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines, only to discover there was no marker in place for this hero. She then worked with the cemetery’s field manager John Stewart to correct the oversight.

“She went to great lengths to contact our office,” said Ryan. “She originally planned to pay for the headstone on her own.”

Ryan said he told her it was not necessary and motions were put in place for the permanent marker that now marks the place of a Chicago hero and guardian angel.

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