This past June, my friend Phil Coneeny passed away. He was 96. I used to sit next to him at Veterans Day and Memorial Day ceremonies. Whereas I was getting shot at as a Naval Aviator over the skies of Vietnam, Phil was getting shot at in the Pacific when I was in diapers. Phil joined the Navy at 17, with his mother’s permission, and was a sailor on the battleship USS Missouri in WWII. The Missouri was hit by a Japanese Zero airplane, piloted by a kamikaze pilot, leaving shrapnel on the deck. Phil gathered a piece, and pocketed it. After the 2 atomic bombs ended the war, the Missouri proceeded to Tokyo Bay, where the formal surrender was to be conducted.
In 2015, Phil went to Honolulu where the Missouri is moored. This was for the 70th Anniversary of the war’s end. He gave the Navy Admiral in charge the piece of the Kamikaze plane that he had gathered over seven decades prior, for inclusion in the ship’s museum. The admiral was so impressed that he wouldn’t let Phil go, until Phil’s companion dragged him away. Phil had just had heart surgery a week prior, but insisted on going to Hawaii.
The USS Missouri arrived in Tokyo Bay in Sept 1945. Another sailor who had the watch asked Phil to trade with him, which Phil did. The watch station happened to be on a forward gun turret, where Phil could look directly down on the table where General MacArthur, the U.S. diplomats/military, and the Japanese delegation signed the formal surrender documents. As an 18-year-old sailor, Phil had the best seat in the house.
After a long cruise, the Missouri returned to its home port of New York City, which was also Phil’s home, and he left the Navy, and joined the NYC Police Department. Phil was stationed in the Bronx (Fort Apache, as the 1980s movie of that name describes the precinct — a bad area). Whereas most officers only lasted 1 or 2 years there, Phil spent 14 years at that precinct. He survived for two reasons: one is that he had a good personality, with many “people skills,” but the second was that, at 6’3”, about 190 lbs, and heavily muscled, nobody gave him any crap. He was once Mr NY, and I saw a picture of him posing back then. Man, was he awesome! Nobody kicked sand in his face.
After retiring from NYPD, he came out to California, and liked it. In fact, the license plate on his car said HPYXNYC, which you can probably figure out. His late wife worked for the Milpitas Police Dept for many years in the Records Dept.
Phil had a memorial ceremony on Veterans Plaza on October 19, 2023. It was sparsely attended, but those who mattered were there. Specifically, two fine officers from the Milpitas Police, Sergeant Dave Morris and Officer Jason Doll, who came out on short notice to perform a Flag-Folding Ceremony. (This is done at funerals, where the flag is folded precisely, and presented to the next-of-kin. Hard to do correctly, even if you have done so before.)
Believe they practiced beforehand, inside, because when they came out, in full-dress Blues, with medals, they were resplendent, professional, and flawless. I had tears in my eyes. And then, after their ceremony, they didn’t retire back to City Hall, but remained for the remainder of the ceremony. And on that day, it was 90 degrees! I was sweating, and I wasn’t decked out in uniform.
But, of course the two officers stayed around. Not only were they honoring a WWII vet, but a fellow fallen officer, and brother in arms.
As a Navy man, I say to Phil, “Fair Winds and Following Seas” and “Thank you for your service.”