Joseph C. Eliot, 96, college teacher, decorated Navy captain

Joseph C. Eliot
Joseph C. Eliot
Posted: November 19, 2012

Joseph C. Eliot, 96, of Havertown, a decorated Navy captain, college instructor, and tennis coach, died Wednesday, Oct. 31, of heart disease at the hospice at Taylor Hospital in Ridley Park.

A graduate of the Naval Academy, Mr. Eliot served aboard the light antiaircraft cruiser San Diego during World War II. As the ship's gunnery officer, he earned a Bronze Star for valor for outstanding performance of duty while directing fire against Japanese aircraft off Okinawa. The San Diego took part in 34 major conflicts in the Pacific, earning 18 battle stars.

Mr. Eliot survived enemy fire in the Pacific, saw action in the Korean War, and had important responsibilities at the Pentagon before retiring from the Navy in 1968. He faced his biggest challenge the next year, though, when he became a college teacher.

"He said the first time he was really petrified was when he stood up in front of a classroom of girls at Harcum College," his daughter Irene Keast said.

Mr. Eliot, who studied Spanish at the University of Havana and earned master's degrees from the University of Virginia and Georgetown University while in the Navy, taught Spanish for a year at Harcum. Then, for a decade, he taught English at Delaware County Community College, where he also coached the men's and women's tennis teams to several championships. He played tennis for pleasure into his 70s.

A native of Centerville, Texas, Mr. Eliot graduated from Allen Military Academy in Bryan, Texas, on a baseball scholarship. After earning a bachelor's degree from the Naval Academy in 1938, he coached the baseball team aboard the battleship Colorado, and later became an avid Phillies fan, his daughter said.

Though he served aboard many ships and described himself in his memoirs as a "destroyer sailor," Mr. Eliot said his memories focused on the San Diego. In August 1945, he was aboard the battle-scarred ship when it entered Tokyo Bay before Japan's surrender. In November 1946, he was the San Diego's commanding officer when it became part of the Reserve Fleet.

Mr. Eliot and his wife, Luz Marie Eliot, a native of Puerto Rico, met at a midshipmen's ball in Annapolis, Md., and married in 1941. They raised a family on naval bases in Washington state, California, Hawaii, and Virginia. She died in 1993.

Mr. Eliot was a member of Sacred Heart Church in Havertown.

In addition to his daughter, he is survived by another daughter, Evelyn Lewis; a sister; and two grandsons. A third daughter, Sandy, died in 1966.

A graveside service will be observed at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 5, at Arlington National Cemetery.

Donations may be made to the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, 875 N. Randolph St., Suite 225, Arlington, Va. 22203.

Contact Sally A. Downey

at 215-854-2913 or

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