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Longtime Merokean, storied World War II veteran, dies at 101

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Andrew Conlin, a World War II veteran, former New York City police officer and longtime Merrick resident, died Feb. 7, at age 101. His maintained his jovial, fun-loving attitude into his later years, family members said — and his personality was on full display when the Herald interviewed him in his Merrick home for his 100th birthday in 2019.

“I personally will miss his laugh,” said Dennis Conlin, Andrew’s youngest son. “Dad loved a good laugh.”

During his interview with the Herald, Conlin’s laughter filled the room, and his sharp recollection of notable events was interjected by high-spirited “Bops!” and “Zows!” As he sat in his favorite armchair, he could hardly sit still as he retold his life story.

Despite nearing his 100th birthday, Conlin lifted his hefty, red lacquered accordion onto his lap to play a song. “I used to pick up tunes by ear,” he said. “I’d remember what to play after one listen, but I couldn’t tell you one key from the other,” he added with a laugh.

To prepare for the interview, Conlin drafted six pages of hand-written personal history, including his departure for World War II, in neat script. “It didn’t take me long — maybe two hours,” he said with a shrug.

Memories from Conlin’s childhood included just as much detail. He recalled his mother, sweating under the Bronx summer sun as she wore a bandana, beckoning to a man selling ice below their fire escape. Fifteen cents provided enough ice until the next visit, he said.

“There was never a lack of kids!” Conlin exclaimed, throwing his arms up emphatically. They often occupied local parades that featured Spanish-American War and Civil War veterans or the local streets, where stickball was the game of choice. Other childhood memories —of fisticuffs and laughter — were shared with abundant detail.

Conlin prided himself on his bilingualism. At Clinton High School in the Bronx, he “zipped right though the four years” of French, he said, and would regularly read the language from newspapers on a stand in Times Square. He was also fluent in Irish Gaelic, and was well versed in Spanish and Italian.

“Wherever we were, my dad could speak or understand the language,” recalled Conlin’s daughter, Eileen.

Conlin met Peggy Lynch in 1937, and the two married four years later. But “war was in the air,” Conlin said. He joined the National Guard in 1940 and served at the 258th Armory in the Bronx.

In 1942, he and thousands of other National Guard members were drafted into the Army. In his carefully written notes, Conlin recounted his shipment to Iceland, which involved a close call with a German submarine.

“Looking off to the horizon,” he wrote, “I saw message lights from a destroyer, signaling ‘Periscope sighted 400 yards astern!’” — a warning of a German submarine sighting. “Two destroyers picked up steam, the smoke billowing from their stacks, and they U-turned backwards to attack the German submarines.”

In Iceland, Conlin served with men from across the United States and beyond. He worked as a radio operator and intercepted messages, which he handed to a sergeant to be passed along to the “big brains” in Washington, he said.

Conlin’s service also brought him to training camps in South Carolina, Arkansas and Georgia, and his wife, whom he affectionately referred to as “Dear Peggy,” always moved with him. They gave birth to their first son, Andrew, in 1944, and their second, James, in 1945.

After being discharged that year, Conlin joined the New York City Police Department. After 19 years on patrol and several attempts at the sergeant’s test, he eventually earned that promotion, and went on to become a lieutenant. He served for a total of 35 years in the 114th Precinct in Astoria.

Conlin followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming an officer. The career was how Andrew Conlin Sr. supported his family coming out of the Great Depression. Andrew Jr.’s first two sons, Andrew III and James, did the same.

After he and Peggy settled into their Merrick home in 1952, they had three more children, Eileen, Kevin and Dennis. Many of Conlin’s eight grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren attended Old Mill Road Elementary School and Sanford H. Calhoun High School.

Conlin was predeceased by Peggy. The two are buried together at Holy Rood Cemetery in Westbury, and the family plans to hold private commemoration ceremonies.

“We love them both — we couldn’t have asked for better parents,” Dennis said. “They will be severely missed.”

“My brothers and I were very blessed to have had dad in our lives for a such a long time,” Eileen said. “I’ll miss him always.”

“My dad was a very special, loving person to me,” Kevin said. “In his later years and until he passed, we spent a great deal of time together. We developed a very special bond that I will forever remember and cherish.”

As his birthday approached in August 2019, spirits were high among Conlin, Kevin and Conlin’s granddaughter, Molly Larom. The trio recounted the generations of memories made in their Merrick home — but none seemed to live up to dense, storied life that Conlin had lived.

“I don’t think there will be any generation that’ll experience more things than they did,” Kevin said. “There will never be 100 years of more amazing history.”