Philip 'Knute' Bonner, 87, WWII vet, Irish tenor

Posted: February 19, 2013

A JUDGE GAVE Philip Bonner, his friend Joe Collins and other teenage boys who had been brought before him after a neighborhood scuffle a choice: Go to jail or enlist in the Army.

It was 1943, and World War II was raging. But the boys chose the Army.

Philip, better known in his Southwest Philly neighborhood as "Knute," was involved in the heavy fighting through Europe, culminating in the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium in the early winter of 1944.

Joe Collins was killed in the battle. Philip carried his body into a church and placed it on the altar - just one of the wrenching experiences the teenager endured as he fought with the 159th Combat Engineer Battalion. He emerged from the war with a Bronze Star for valor an a Purple Heart for wounds. He carried shrapnel in his legs the rest of his life.

Philip E. "Knute" Bonner, who became a Philadelphia police officer after the war and later worked for the Pennsylvania Auditor General's Office, a proud Irishman whose tenor voice was in-demand for shows, weddings and other events, died Friday. He was 87 and lived in Southwest Philadelphia.

Knute and his Southwest St. Patrick's Club were regular participants in the city's annual St. Patrick's Day Parade. In 2001, he was grand marshal and dedicated the parade to the memory of Joe Collins.

Knute's outfit, which landed at Utah Beach in Normandy a month after D-Day, liberated Nazi concentration camps, including Buchenwald in Germany.

Knute was born in Philadelphia to Joseph and Bertha Bonner. He attended West Catholic and John Bartram high schools.

He got his nickname as a child playing football at a Big Brothers camp and was named after Notre Dame's legendary coach Knute Rockne.

As a police officer from 1956 to 1966, Knute was assigned as a patrol officer to various districts, including 17th Street and Montgomery Avenue. He suffered injuries on patrol,including a broken index finger that was permantely bent over his middle finger after he put his fist through a plaster wall while trying to punch a suspect.

After leaving the Police Department, Knute held a number of construction jobs and joined the state Auditor General's Office as an auditor in 1970. He retired in 1985.

Knute's Irish tenor, as well as his banjo, was heard at the variety shows put on at churches and other venues by the Southwest St. Patrick's Club. His wife, the former Patricia Noone, whom he married in 1964, also sang in the shows.

"He was fun-loving and extremely good-hearted," his wife said. "He was very generous. He gave coats to homeless people in the streets. He would do anything for you."

Besides his wife, he is survived by four daughters, Mary Beth Ryan, Erin Hudyma, Bridget Pot and Deirdre Hines; three sons, Philip Bonner Jr., Sean K. and Sheamus, and nine grandchildren. He was predeceased by another son, Patrick Bonner.

Services: 11 a.m. Friday at Divine Mercy Parish of Good Shepherd Church, 67th Street and Chester Avenue. Friends may call at 9:30 a.m. Burial will be in Ss. Peter & Paul Cemetery, Marple.

Contributions may be made to Divine Mercy Parish, 6667 Chester Ave., Philadelphia 19142.

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