Philip J. Katauskas – A man of Many Words

By Bob Tagert

Philip J. Katauskas – A man of Many Words

One of the fun things about our Personality Profile is that you just never know how interesting folks are until you talk them. We met Philip “Phil” Katauskas at River Bend Bistro over the past half year or so and through conversation found out how fascinating he is. He has compiled some of his writings in a small book called Writings. As I write this piece I will make reference to these writings in italics and I will begin with the foreward from his book to set the tone of his love for the written word.

“My mother and father both loved the written word. My father was a college English professor, and my mother was an avid reader. They imparted to their three children their love of the written word. My children’s mother and I did the same with our two children. And continuing in that tradition, my children have passed on that affection to my grandchildren. It seemed like a good idea to collect my modest body of writings, personal and professional, published and unpublished, in one place for posterity. I also wanted to include the essay my father submitted to the University of Notre Dame, circa 1937. The essay earned him a full scholarship, and he was awarded a Master’s Degree in Apologetics from Notre Dame. Hence this book.”

Phil was born and raised in a small town in farm country in Illinois coincidentally named Washington. When asked about his upbringing, he told me that his mother was a down-to-earth person. “She had no formal education beyond high school, but she had an innate sense of values and was an avid reader, which make her informed beyond any college diploma she lacked. To this day, I value the plain-spokeness and common sense she gave me. She taught me respect using those qualities,” said Katauskas.

Phil’s father moved the family to southern Michigan in order to do doctorial work at the University of Michigan when he was in the third or fourth grade. The family moved into a home on a lake in the woods. He was the oldest of three at the time so he would hike and fish along that lake with his siblings. This is where he learned his love of the outdoors. “There were no other kids around so the woods were my playground,” he tells me.

Phil continued his high school education in southern Michigan where he played football, both offense and defense and ran track where he excelled in the 1/4 mile hurdles and the 4×4 mile relay. In his senior year he was recruited by the Naval Academy to try out for their football team. “I thought it would be cool to play football for Navy. Roger Staubach had just won the Heisman Trophy a year earlier,” said Katauskas. He made it to the final cut but wasn’t picked up so he turned his attention to running track for the Academy the next four years.

Upon graduation in 1968 from the Academy, Phil became a Naval Flight Officer and got his wings in November of 1969. His first tour of duty was in Corpus Christi, Texas where he was an Advanced Air Navigation Instructor for two years.

“Graduations and commencements of the positive variety are filled, as they should be, with certain pomp and circumstance befitting the occasion. My graduation from the U.S. naval Academy in June of 1968, and my commencement on the road to becoming a Naval Flight Officer, were no different. I did not know, however, at that time that very soon they would mark the commencement of something not so joyous. Graduations and commencements should be about the graduate, and mine was. My parents, brother, sister, then-girlfriend, who would soon become my wife and the mother of my two children, and a couple of spinster cousins, who had provided me occasional refuge at their home in nearby Arlington, Virginia, during my four Midship years, were there. It was a splendid day, but marred by Bobby Kennedy’s assassination the night before and by the official declaration that the USS Scorpion, a nuclear attack submarine, was lost at sea, with all ninety-nine of its sailors entombed in a steel hull many fathoms below the sea. We gave them a moment of silence before the diplomas and commissions were handed out. Life had to go on.”

During his tour of duty in Corpus Christi he served as a Navigator and tactical coordinator. Although they had electronic navigation he also taught new pilots celestial navigation while in flight. This was accomplished with a periscope sextant used through a bubble dome in the ceiling of the plane. He also trained to fly P-3 Orion subchasers and did a tour as part of a patrol squad In Brunswick, Maine. “We were looking for the Red Octobers of the world,” he tells me. He trained to fly the Orions at Patuxent Naval Air Station in Maryland.

Family life in Corpus Christi proved to be eventful. Hurricane Celia struck the small town, so Phil and his wife Dottie began preparations.

“Dottie and I made a list of items we’d need to survive the storm: Bottled water, masking tape, baby food, diapers (these for their young daughter), batteries, and canned food. I took my list and headed for the grocery store. Surprisingly, although mobbed, everyone was helpful with not a hint of panic. When I approached the check-out line with my cart, the local in front of me, a middle-aged woman with a then -popular beehive hairdo, said, ‘Honey, you probably should get some sterno and matches to heat up those baked beans. Sterno is in aisle 6 — I’ll save your place in line.’ Of course, I followed her advice.”

They took all of the necessary precautions including cracking the windows on the family car slightly to relieve the pressure from the inside that the hurricane would create. They rode out the storm which lasted 6 hours. After checking for damage and a little straightening up, Katauskas went to check on his car.

“I checked my car to see that I apparently had not rolled my windows down far enough. My windshield had been sucked out by Celia. Looking around the carport, I saw that I was not the only who had suffered that fate. And when my Air Navigation School re-opened, I learned that many of my instructor colleagues had also lost their windshields. The problem was that there was a shortage of replacement windshields in Corpus Christi, so the wait for a replacement was weeks. ‘Resourcefulness’ in the person of my friend and fellow instructor, LCDR Vern Redfern, solved the problem. Vern called shops in San Antonio, about two hours away, and made appointments for us to drive up there and have our windshields replaced. The logistical challenge was how to drive at highway speeds for two hours without a windshield. More ‘resourcefulness’ was required. To this day I do not know who solved this problem, but since there is nobody around to contradict me, I will say I did. Vern and I wore our navy flight helmets with our dark-green visors down on our drive from Corpus Christi to San Antonio. We drove in a two-car loose formation and laughed ourselves silly at the faces of the oncoming drivers who saw two drivers approaching who looked like giant flies.”

While at Corpus Christi officers also had collateral duties that were a requirement of his position so Kastaukas signed up to be a legal officer. With no legal background, the Navy sent him to five weeks at the Naval Justice School and he returned as legal counsel to the Commanding Officer. It was about this time that he decided “Hey, I think I can do this” and applied to law school at Villanova.

After graduating from law school, Phil became a law clerk for an Associate Justice on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and described it as one of the defining experiences of his career. Within six months the Justice had him writing drafts and then opinions. When he began to look at employment after his Law Clerk experience, he would send his opinions to prospective employers.

For the next 30 years Phil practiced law as a civil litigator and represented such companies as Gulf Oil, Chevron, Sunoco and some pharmaceutical companies. He moved from private practice to the Department of Defense as a trial officer for the General Counsel. In March of 2017 he became an Administrative Judge and at 72 years old still loves going to his office every day.

Philip Katauskas is a man that understands respect and is not one to sit and just let life pass him by.

“Missing Out on the Present…With an unusually self-prohibited street vendor hot dog, a bag of chips and a diet soda, I headed to the Square and found a seat on one of the benches. The Park was populated with the usual characters: a few homeless, sunbathers, dog walkers, and moms and dads with their young children. As I enjoyed the weather, the forbidden meal and the people-watching, I was struck by how many of the parks denizens that day were apparently distracted. By what I really could not say exactly. But so many of the adults were busy on their cell phones or with their heads down and thumbs in action on a variety of their “hand-held devices, “Blackberry’s, iPhones, and other gear designed to allow electronic communications. I wondered if those communications were robbing the Park communicants of the wonderful immediacy of the moment, the sights and sounds of the day, the diversity of the Park populace, the fresh air and sunshine. It is, of course, possible that each communication was essential to some urgency. But I wondered, could that really be so?”

If you have a chance to encounter this man, be sure to strike up a conversation. You won’t regret it.

Publishers Note: You can catch Judge Phil having lunch at River Bend Bistro in the Hollin Hills Shopping Center on Fort Hunt Road on a fairly regular basis.

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