Philip Alfano Jr.: Selfless devotion to Country and Family
Sixteen years before Philip Alfano Jr. patrolled the streets of Newark, NJ, he was a gunner on U.S. Navy ships that protected fuel and supplies into Guam and Saipan—where the B-29s would launch from and bomb Tokyo during WWII. He tells how the Navy took him all over the world and through hostile areas of the South Pacific supporting the war effort as a seventeen-year-old kid from New Jersey.
“It made a man out of me,” Alfano said. “It was an education. It taught me how things went on in the world.”
Alfano, 92, and proud that shortly he will reach his 93rd birthday in good health, devoted his life to public service, and inspired many of his children and grandchildren to do the same. The Alfanos are legendary in the city of Newark, mostly in the Fire Department, where generations of Alfano’s continue to proudly protect and serve the city.
It all began while at port in Portland, Oregon in 1943 when Alfano met his future bride, Beryl. After the war, the happy couple would marry and begin a family in Newark, NJ. They had seven children, of which in turn grew into 24 grandchildren, 22 great-grandchildren, and another two great-grandchildren on the way.
Alfano tells how marrying, Beryl, who lived on the West Coast, led to traversing the American countryside in a motorhome.
“We’ve seen the entire county. Every National Park and destination stop this country offers,” Alfano said.
After the war, Alfano worked in a jewelry factory, got laid off, and at that time had five children and needed steady employment. Bill Geraghty, a close friend on the Newark police force suggested he’d make a good officer, and urged him to take the upcoming police and fire exams.
“So I took and passed both tests,” Alfano said. “The police department called first, so I took that job. A year later, the fire department called but I was already walking the beat and decided to stay on the force.”
Alfano would spend the next decade working the radio car, making many arrests, and risking his life in a city where eventually the infamous riots would break out in 1967.
“The riots were a difficult time for the police department,” Alfano said. As a selfless patriot, rather than discuss his personal service during the riots, Alfano seized the moment to celebrate and honor the life of Detective Fredrick Toto, who was shot and killed by a sniper at the intersection of Broome Street and Springfield Avenue during the riots. Detective Toto was ambushed by a gunman from a nearby apartment building.
“He was a good friend of mine,” Alfano said. “I’ll honor him by never forgetting him.”
Alfano’s memory is sharp. He spoke with meticulous detail of Detective Toto and other fallen Newark officers who made the ultimate sacrifice during his career. He instantaneously recalls even the smallest of details, and how much respect he has for those who wore the uniform, and laid down their life while doing so.
“Being a police officer is a rough job,” Alfano said. “It’s a job I thoroughly enjoyed.”
By 1982, Alfano had seen and experienced enough.
“I wanted out. I wanted to be more with my family,” Alfano said. “The job was changing from when I joined the force in 1958. Today, it’s even more difficult to be a police officer.”
However, Alfano wants all officers out there today to know that as difficult as the job is at times, “You can persevere if you stick with it through the hard times,” he said. “Eventually, things all work themselves out. Stay safe and look out for each other.”
After retiring Alfano continues to stay active. He spends half the year in Florida and the other half on Culver Lake in Branchville, New Jersey. He is often seen at Culver Lake cruising around the winding lake roads in his golf cart or sojourning around in his boat. He fills his day by gardening, maintaining his property, and engaging in family and social activities.
Alfano’s secret to a long life of health and happiness is wine with dinner, staying active, enjoying hobbies, and having a supportive and loving wife. This summer the Alfano’s are celebrating seventy-one years of marriage.
“As busy as a career in law enforcement is, always make time for family,” Alfano said. “Family is the greatest joy of life.”
NJ Blue Now salutes Officer Phillip Alfano Jr. (Ret.) for a life of selfless devotion to country and family.
George Beck is a police detective, award-winning journalist, and managing editor of NJ Blue Now magazine. He’s a Ph.D. candidate at Drew University. He is the author of The Killer Among Us and several other books. His nonfiction and short stories have been featured in magazines and anthologies nationally and internationally.