Charles O'Neil - 2nd Lieutenant
- Purple Heart
Charles henry O'Neil was born in Ames, Iowa on December 14, 1918. He attended St. Cecilia's Catholic School and Ames High School.
Charles continued his education at Iowa State College where he pursued a degree in Dairy Manufacturing. On September 8, 1940, he enlisted in the U.S.A. Air Corps and received his primary training at Sikeston, Mo., being one of the first classes to enter that school.
He went through basic training at Randolph Field, Texas, and received his pilot wings and Second Lieutenant's commission on April 28, 1941.
Charles first assignment after graduation stationed him in the Philippines. On June 25, 1941, Charles arrived at Clark Field located on Luzon Island. He participated in the defense of the Philippines during the Japanese invasion of the islands in 1941. Charles fought with the First Provisional Air Regiment on Bataan after all of the planes were destroyed at Clark Field. Charles surrendered with the remaining United States forces on April 9, 1942 and survived the Bataan Death March to Cabanatuan, Prison Camp No. 1.
In October 1942, Charles transferred to Prison Camp No. 2, near Davao. In March 1944, he transferred out to a work detail on a Japanese air field. On August 20, 1944, Charles and other prisoners were loaded on to a Japanese freighter at Davao, Mindanao, and set sail for an unknown destination. On September 7, 1944, two torpedoes struck the vessel about two miles off the western shores of Mindanao. The freighter later sunk and very few POWs survived.
On February 14, 1945, Charles was officially declared killed in action and his parents received his Purple Heart.
According to testimony from surviving POWs, Charles never lost his faith during his long interim as a POW in the Philippines. He assisted Father Carberry at Mass and was a leader in building altars and places of worship in the prison camps. Charles established camaraderie with his fellow prisoners which helped many to survive the terrible conditions of the Camps. Fellow POWs saw Charles as a beacon of hope in the bleak camps.
Charles was the eldest son of Patrick Henry O'Neil and Gertrude Allen Cooper, of Ames, Iowa. He had two brothers, Lt. James J. and Lt. Eugene E., and also one sister Rosella. His brother James J. O'Neil was later killed bailing out of a crippled P-38 fighter in California June 1945.