By Bob Bong
By all accounts, Orland Park resident Anton “Tony” Heim is a great guy.
So great, that his friends, neighbors and family decided he shouldn’t have to miss his 89th birthday just because the nation is struggling to cope with a coronavirus pandemic.
Because of social distancing and face mask rules, his daughter Becky Heim was unable to have a party for her dad.
Instead, his best friend Mike Kane made a few calls and organized a surprise parade last Saturday afternoon.
“This was not planned by me,” said Becky Heim. “But I’m glad we did it. It’s a nice way to honor veterans.”
For about 20 minutes, Orland Park police cars, fire trucks, military trucks, motorcycles including Patriot Guard riders, vintage autos and a host of cars driven by friends decorated with sign wishing Heim a happy birthday paraded past his home at 144th Street and Greenland Avenue in Old Orland Park.
Sirens were blaring and horns were honking, but it didn’t seem to bother the neighbors, who were all out in front of their homes with signs of their own wishing Heim a happy 89th birthday.
Heim waved at all of the people as they passed by.
“What a surprise. I never knew I had this many friends,” said the Marine veteran of the Korean War who wiped away a tear after being overcome with emotion.
Heim was only a teenager when he joined the Marines. “He was 16 and lied about his age,” said his daughter.
He soon found himself in the 1st Marine Division in South Korea. He was there when North Korea invaded and almost pushed the American, British and South Korean soldiers into the Sea of Japan.
“I was in the Pusan Perimeter,” he said referring to a 140-mile defensive line around an area on the southeastern tip of South Korea.
A few weeks later he took part in the Inchon Landing, an amphibious assault that led to the recapture of the South Korean capital and reversed the fortunes of war for the United Nations forces.
A few months later, however, he would find himself at the Chosin Reservoir, which has become known as the Frozen Chosin.
“I was 17,” he said. “It was the coldest I have ever been.” Temperatures during the battle plunged to 36 below zero and created brutal conditions for the 30,000 UN troops facing 120,000 Chinese soldiers.
“He wouldn’t talk about it for a long time,” his daughter said. “But after we went to Korea in 2013, he seemed to open up more about his time there.”
Heim has lived most of his life in Orland Park.
“I was born a block away from here,” he said. “I used to hunt rabbits and pheasant where my house is.”
He moved away for a time but has been a resident since 1970.
He’s seen the town grow up and likes what it has become.
“I love Orland Park. I love the people. I wouldn’t live anywhere else.”