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Francis Kiernan, coach, WWII vet who fought at Normandy dies

Francis Kiernan, who coached East Hampton High School

Francis Kiernan, who coached East Hampton High School sports teams to local championships, died April 13 of natural causes at age 107. Credit: Jean Rosenow

Francis Kiernan, a World War II veteran who coached East Hampton High School sports teams to local championships, died April 13 of natural causes in Boynton Beach, Florida.

He was 107.

Kiernan was at the center of youth athletics in East Hampton for decades, earning him the lifelong nickname of “Coach.” But he was more than that to his young players, whom he mentored on the field and off, according to those who knew him.

“He cared about the kids he was coaching,” said his son, F.J. Kiernan, 70, of Southold. “And they knew it.”

Francis Kiernan was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 1910. His father worked in a steel mill, where Kiernan joined him in the summers to earn money for college. He studied physical education at West Chester University in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and received a master’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh, his son said.

Kiernan enlisted in the Army about 1942, and took part in the Invasion of Normandy, landing 14 days after D-Day, his son said.

He shared few details of his service with his family.

“He rarely talked about the war at all, as many people in World War II didn’t,” his son said.

Kiernan moved to East Hampton after the war, and began teaching physical education at East Hampton High School, as well as coaching football, basketball and baseball.

He found success as a coach, leading his undefeated, untied 1952 football team — the only such squad in East Hampton High School history — to a conference championship, his son said. He was named Suffolk County Coach of the Year that year.

His winning seasons drew in part on the confidence he instilled in his young players, said Hugh King, 76, who played basketball and baseball for Kiernan in the 1950s.

“I’m counting on you,’ he would tell you,” recalled King, who lives in Amagansett.

“That gives you so much confidence and makes you a better player.”

Kiernan retired from coaching in the 1970s, but continued to run a summer day camp in East Hampton until the 1980s, his son said.

Kiernan’s first wife, Eleanor Kiernan, died in 1976. He married his second wife, Frances Kiernan, in 1977.

Their similar first names could cause confusion, but they found a workaround:

“I always called him sweetie, and he just called me honey,” said Frances Kiernan.

Kiernan also is survived by four stepchildren; two grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and two step-grandchildren.

Kiernan’s remains will be interred at South Florida National Cemetery in Lake Worth, Florida, in a military funeral on July 9.

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