Captain John J. Coonan, Jr., USN (1944-2009) was born in Pawtucket to a Navy family. His father, who also retired as a Navy Captain, was deployed in the SW Pacific flying the PB4Y (Navy version of B-24) and did not see his son until he was 13 months old. His father was stationed at NAS Quonset Point for several years in the early 1950s, and he grew up in Wickford and East Greenwich. The Coonan family returned to RI during his father’s deployments. They moved 14 times before his graduation from high school in 1962. CAPT Coonan attended the University of Virginia under the Regular NROTC Program graduating in June 1966. He was designated a naval aviator on 29 September 1967. He flew the A-7 during a Vietnam deployment in VA-87 aboard USS Ticonderoga (CVA-14), and eventually commanded a Light Attack Wing, the supply ship USS Mars, a Carrier Air Wing and eventually the aircraft carrier USS America (CV -66).
In April 1993 he took over the Naval Aviation Schools Command. He accumulated more than 4,500 flight hours (including more than 3,000 in the A-7 aircraft) and logged 1,000+ carrier arrested landings. Following retirement from the Navy in 1996, he joined the staff of National Naval Aviation Museum Foundation in Pensacola, Florida. He served as Director of Development and later Vice President of Education and Chief Operating Officer.
His most lasting contribution to aviation and to the foundation, however, was his stewardship of the National Flight Academy, the premier and one-of-a-kind scientific, technological, engineering and mathematics (STEM) teaching facility in this country. He was selected to bring the concept to reality and serve as the Academy’s first Director. Unfortunately, he succumbed to cancer in June of 2009. John J Mazach, Vice Admiral, USN (ret) nominated Captain Coonan for recognition by RIAHOF. He wrote:
“John Coonan…was always a leader in the air (as well as on the ground) from his first combat tour all the way through his tour as the Air Wing One Commander on what would eventually be his ship, USS America (CV66). His consummate leadership was recognized when he commanded Attack Squadron Fifteen in 1981. He became the first recipient of the James B Stockdale Leadership Award, given annually to the Commanding Officer who best exemplifies the enduring inspirational leadership characteristics of Admiral Stockdale.”
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