From The Washington Post (Sunday, December 21, 1975)
Saved Tanker at Pearl Harbor
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.
Above: Captain John S. Phillips, the only commander of the tanker U.S.S. Neosho (AO-23).
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)
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
Fort 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.