Jan. 31, 1955 — April 19, 2015
Phillip A. Elia, a retired Army National Guard master sergeant who responded to ground zero after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and served in Iraq, died Sunday in his Kenmore home after a long battle with lung cancer. He was 60.
After his Guard unit was mobilized, Mr. Elia arrived in Lower Manhattan the day after the attacks and remained there for about six weeks, working in various capacities including logistics and security, said his wife, Barbara.
His son, Max, enlisted in the Navy after Sept. 11 and both men were deployed to Iraq in 2004. Mr. Elia postponed his retirement and served a one-year tour with the 1st Battalion, 142nd Aviation Regiment in Tikrit.
For his efforts in delivering school and medical supplies to villages surrounding the base, Mr. Elia was awarded the Bronze Star, said Barbara Elia. “The villagers became very attached and very grateful and, in fact, then turned against the bad guys and became informants for my husband’s unit,” said his wife.
But Mr. Elia was reticent to talk about his military honors, which also included the Meritorious Service Award and the Commander’s Award for Public Service.
“He would never talk about it,” she said. “And he would never let me talk about it. Now he can’t stop me. I was very proud of him.”
Born in Buffalo, Mr. Elia graduated in 1973 from Lafayette High School and enlisted in the Navy, serving for four years as a hospital corpsman. In 1978, he married the former Barbara Barry and studied nursing at Canisius College while working as an aide at Our Lady of Victory Hospital in Lackawanna.
In 1985, he joined the Army National Guard as a medic and supply sergeant. He met Kevin Adler and their unit went to Alaska for training, living in tents in subzero freezing temperatures.
“It’s not that he didn’t have a wicked sense of humor, but when he was on the job he moved forward and didn’t take anything from anybody else.” said Adler, a retired major.
Just before leaving for Iraq, Mr. Elia helped co-found the WNY Maritime Charter School..
He retired from the Guard in 2006.
He received a degree in emergency management from Excelsior College in 2013, the day after his diagnosis. Mr. Elia attributed his illness to the weeks he spent working at ground zero, said his wife.
“He had a career ahead of him in emergency management,” she said. “He was only 60 years old. We had just started to do our traveling. This really took half of our life away.”
He was a member of the Wounded Warriors Project and enjoyed refinishing old furniture.
In addition to his wife and son, survivors include his mother, Sylvia; a daughter, Marilyn; another son, Brian; five sisters, Rosemarie Holzerland, Bridget Harding, Carolynn Truscott, Lynette Kennedy and Mary Cathleen Elia; and two grandsons.
A memorial service with honor guard will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday in the Masten Avenue Armory, 27 Masten Ave.