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Home > Family History > USS Neosho > Aftermath > Obituary of John S. Phillips


Obituary of John S. Phillips



After the sinking of the U.S.S. Neosho during the Battle of the Coral Sea, its captain, John S. Philips, returned to the U.S.  He was offered the command of another ship in the U.S. Navy, but he turned it down and never went to sea again, perhaps too shaken by the events in the Coral Sea.  He remained in the Navy, however, and eventually reached the rank of Rear Admiral, then retired in 1947 at age 52.  John Phillips lived the last years of his life in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  He died on December 17, 1975 at Bethesda Naval Hospital and was buried at Arlington cemetery.  He and his wife Nancy never had children.


 The saga of the Neosho was the topic of a 30-minute radio dramatization broadcast in 1943 as part of the weekly Cavalcade of America radio show.  Refer to episode CALV 430510 - 330 Fat Girl at the website: https://archive.org/details/OTRR_Cavalcade_of_America_Singles.  At the end of the 30-minute broadcast, Captain John Philips speaks for a few minutes to commemorate the valiant Neosho crewman that were lost during the Battle of the Coral Sea.  To my knowledge, it is the only recording of his voice available on the Internet.


My cousin, Bob Leu (Bill Leu's son) recently bought a used copy of the Neosho biography, "Fat Girl," which I describe on my Sources page.  As he was looking through the book, Bob discovered two newspaper articles pressed in the pages, describing the life of John Phillips (although containing a few historical inaccuracies).  Bob was kind enough to type them up for me, and I've included them below.



From The Washington Post  (Sunday, December 21, 1975)


Saved Tanker at Pearl Harbor

Rear Adm. John S. Phillips, 80, Dies
Rear Admiral John S. Phillips, whose exploits during World War II included safely sailing his heavily loaded tanker clear of Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked, died Wednesday at Bethesda Naval Medical Center after a brief illness.  He was 80 and lived in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Adm. Phillips, a native of Alexandria, attended the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis and was a graduate of the Class of 1918, which actually graduated in 1917 to speed the young ensigns into battle during World War I.
Between the two wars, Adm. Phillips served in various posts around the country.  On Dec. 7, 1941, he was stationed aboard the naval oiler Neosho at Pearl Harbor.  During the Japanese attack against the naval base, Adm. Phillips, then a commander, ordered his ship to clear the harbor to remove the Neosho as a serious hazard.  They steamed safely clear under a hail of bullets and bombs.  Adm. Phillips received the Navy Cross for his heroism.
In May, 1942, Adm. Phillips and the Neosho were part of the American fleet that turned back the Japanese advance toward Australia during the Battle of Coral Sea.  The Neosho's luck ran out during the battle -- on May 7, the tanker was struck by seven bombs and soon sank, taking more than half its crew with it.  Adm. Phillips and the survivors escaped in the ship's boats.
They bobbed for four days in the open sea.  On May 11, a Canadian aircraft participating in the search flew overhead, signaling: "Do you need help?"  Adm. Phillips signaled his response: "What do you think?"
Adm. Phillips later served in naval intelligence and taught naval courses at the university level.  He retired in 1947 and settled in Arlington, where he pursued his interest in golf.  He and his wife moved to Fort Lauderdale in the late 1950s.
Adm. Phillips is survived by his wife, Nancy, of the home in Fort Lauderdale. 



From The Washington Star  (Sunday, December 21, 1975)

Adm. John Phillips Dies; Saved Pearl Harbor Ship
Rear Adm. John S. Phillips, 80, who saved his ship during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor only to lose it during the battle of the Coral Sea, died Wednesday after a brief illness in Bethesda Naval Hospital.  He had lived in Four Lauderdale, Fla., since leaving the District in 1960.
On Dec. 7, 1941, Phillips, then a captain, was commanding an oil tanker, the Neosho, in Pearl Harbor.  When the Japanese attacked, he moved his ship from the harbor, avoiding a serious fire.  He received the Navy Cross for his action.
Six months later, his ship was attacked by Japanese planes during the battle of the Coral Sea.  "We figured we were so far behind the battle area that nothing could possibly happen to us," Phillips recalled.  "We were protected by one destroyer and were just cruising along waiting to refuel the ships in the battle."
"But all of a sudden, we were discovered by Japanese planes.  That was it.  In a few hours the destroyer was sunk with the loss of almost 300 men.  My ship was not sunk but it was a derelict.  My losses in men were almost as great as the destroyer's."
Phillips said he believed his ship was one of the first to be hit by kamikaze planes.  He floated in an open boat for four days before being rescued.
Before the war, he served two tours as professor of Naval Science and Tactics at the Naval Academy and Northwestern University.
When Phillips retired from the intelligence division of naval operations in 1947, he moved to Arlington, where he resumed his truncated golf career at the Army Navy Country Club.
An avid golfer since he was 15, Phillips studied the game from all angles and was an acknowledged expert on building and keeping greens.  He was honorary member of the Golf Course Superintendents of America.
In 1955, he was elected president of the D.C. Golf Association, and the Northern Virginia representative of the Virginia Golf Association.  He also was named to the tournament committee of the U.S. Golf Association's national seniors championship.
He leaves his wife, Nancy.
Services will be held at 10:45 a.m. tomorrow at Ft. Myer Chapel.  Burial will be in Arlington Cemetery.



Table of Contents:

U.S.S. Neosho  (AO-23)

U.S.S. Neosho (AO-23) Home Page


Specifications of the U.S.S. Neosho

The Four U.S.S. Neoshos


Photo Gallery of the U.S.S. Neosho


The Pearl Harbor Attack  (December 7, 1941)

Prelude to War:  Conflict in the Far East

Bill Leu's Early Years

The U.S.S. Neosho at Pearl Harbor

Bill Leu Interview:  Pearl Harbor Attack

U.S. Navy Action Report:  U.S.S. Neosho


The Battle of the Coral Sea  (May 1942)

The Battle of the Coral Sea:  Summary

Battle Action:  April 30 - May 4, 1942 

Battle Action:  May 5 - May 7, 1942

Battle Action:  May 8, 1942

The U.S.S. Neosho at Coral Sea

May 7, 1942:  The Attack

May 8, 1942:  Waiting For Rescue

May 9, 1942:  Fading Hope

May 10, 1942:  Neosho Sighted

May 11, 1942:  Rescue

List of Survivors & Casualties

The Battle of the Coral Sea  (May 1942 - cont.)

Bill Leu Interview:  Battle of the Coral Sea

U.S. Navy Action Reports:  Coral Sea

Action Report of the U.S.S. Neosho

Action Report of the U.S.S. Sims

U.S.S. Helm Report

Other Ships at Coral Sea

The U.S.S. Sims (Neosho's Escort)

The U.S.S. Henley (Neosho's Rescuer)

The U.S.S. Helm (Rescued Life Raft)

Coral Sea Scrapbook

S.F. Examiner Article, July 10, 1942



President Bush's Speech at Pearl Harbor

Seattle Times:  Bill Leu at Pearl Harbor

Obituary of Captain John S. Phillips


U.S.S. Neosho Veteran's Forum


Sources & Further Information

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