James O'Neil - 1st Lieutenant

Rank: 1st Lieutenant
Date Of Birth: Sep 8, 1921
Date Of Death: Jun 15, 1945
War / Conflict: World War II
Hometown: Ames, Iowa
Gold Star Hall - Wall Location: West Wall (by Entrance Door)
Service Ribbons Awarded:
  • Distinguished Flying Cross
  • Air Medal with V (for valor) (Somalia)


James Joseph O'Neil was born in Ames, Iowa on September 8, 1921. He was the second eldest son of Patrick Henry O'Neil and Gertrude Allen Cooper of Ames, Iowa. His older brother, Charles, was officially reported killed in action on September 7, 1944. He also had another brother, Lt Eugene E., and one sister Rosella. James attended St. Cecilia's Catholic School and graduated from Ames High School in 1939. The following year he enrolled at Iowa State College and had completed up to his third year in Science.

On April 16, 1942, James enlisted in the U.S.A Air Corps. He received his call to active duty on August 27, 1942 and began his preflight training at Kelley Field, Texas.

At Uvalde, Texas, he finished his primary training. He then continued on to Randolph field, Texas for basic training.

On April 22, 1943, he graduated from Moore Field, Texas and received his pilot wings and Second Lieutenant's Commission. Soon after graduation, James attended additional training at Moore Field.

On June 2, 1943 he received his assignment and shipped out to Hawaii. His duty in Hawaii marked the beginning of his overseas career as a fighter pilot. James received his promotion to 1st Lieutenant on December 16, 1943. Over the following twenty-two months, James was based in Australia, New Guinea, Biak Island, Leyte and Mindoro.

James was credited with downing three Japanese planes in aerial combat and accumulated four awards: Air Medal Award with Oak Leaf Clusters, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Legion of Merit in April 1944, and the Presidential Unit Citation. James spent 20 months in the Pacific Theater. He accumulated 450 combat flying hours and participated in 182 aerial combat missions prior to his reassignment to the United States.

James returned to the United States in February 1945 and spent some time with his parents and sister before reporting to Santa Ana, California for redistribution. The United States Army Air force assigned him to Ontario, California as an instructor.

On June 14, 1945, James died in an airplane accident thirty-four miles south of Riverside, Calif. at 4:28 in the afternoon after bailing out of a crippled P-38 fighter plane.