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S/Sgt James A. O'Neal(Red) Birth Sep 14, 1919 - Death Dec 14, 2004


James O'Neal on HighschoolS/Sgt James Allen O'Neal (known as Red to all) was born in Commerce, TX to James Harmon and Epsie Tom (Tommie) O'Neal. His younger and only sibling, Charles was born in Greenville, TX. Charles was also in the Army Air Corps in WWII. In Gainesville, his father was a bus driver for Trailways bus line and he and Tommie ran the small cafe (Trailway Coffee Shop) in the bus station. During WWII they served hundreds of Camp Howze soldiers home cooked food. Camp Howze was an infantry replacement training center located adjacent to the town of Gainesville. 
James graduated from Gainesville High School in 1938. Football is a passion in Texas and he participated in and loved high school football. He attended and also played football for Weatherford College in Weatherford, TX, Murray State College in Tishomingo, OK, and was then recruited by Texas Tech College in Lubbock, TX. His education and football career was ended by the war. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps on June 29, 1940.Sgt James O'Neal completed his training as an engineer - gunner at Bruning, Nebraska, and was sent to Italy in November, 1943.

This is the story of James after the war as told by Shirley, the daughter of James O'Neal:

After Dad returned to the US, he spent a full year in different Army hospitals trying toJames and Charles O'Neal heal his foot. He and his brother Charles ran a restaurant in Gainesville named O'Neal's Eat-a-Bite. He was a mailman before entering the oil industry. He did James in the 80'ssales in the oil industry. In the late 50's he came to work in Louisiana and met and married my mother,Lorraine.She had 3 children (myself, Richard & Patricia) and then they had one together (Kathleen). He treated us all the same which is a testament to the kind of man he was. He worked in the oil industry for Otis Engineering, Homco, and later retired as District Manager from Oil Field Rental Service Company in 1989 after 22 years of service. To quote one of his beloved cousins, "Red was always larger than life".  We dearly miss this wonderful man.

This is the story of James O'Neal on the fatal mission #40 told by Bob Johnson :

Yes, I do have some information on the Thieme crew members. First, I was in the 449th, joined them the very day of the fatal mission April 4, 1944, your subject, where we S/Sgt James O'Nealwatched from the apron of the runway at Grottaglie as the planes returned from their mission to Bucharest, our first exposure to the reality of the air war that we were to fight. That day, the 449th lost seven planes of 28 sent, a sobering and stupendous loss of 25%. This put some arithmetic to work in our heads about finishing our assignment of 50 missions. The 449th was awarded the Presidential Citation for that raid--recognizing the bravery and valor of young fighting men, including the likes of Thiemes crew, who paid the ultimate price. All of these escapades are the subject of my book, gidi gidi boom boom, published in 2006.

S/Sgt James O'Neal (Red) was the photographer flying with the Thieme crew on that fatal last mission to Bucharest, April 4, 1944. Because he had request this flight, in an attempt to complete his last mission before going home, he will be forever joined with Bill Thieme's honor and glory team as a heroic guest-gunner-photographer. His heroics came not so much from fighting, which was admirable, but from his deep and abiding respect, care, and self-less courage toward his fellow-man. That day, the freckled red-headed boy took over a vacated 50 caliber machine gun in the waist of the B-24 H (#41 28655), in a last attempt to re-coup control of a hellish air-battle in the skies of Romania. After being knocked down by ME109 cannon fire or frags, taking out the heel of his left foot, staring at doom and futility from the bottom side of a B-24, he decided his last option to take to the silk; he made his way to the camera hatch to bail out. Glancing about him, he saw that life remained in one member lying in the forward area of the waist, near the ball-turret; it was the radio operator, T/Sgt John Belcher.

Red delayed an imminent and immediate jump to investigate the condition of Belcher. Crawling to his new buddy on the floor, he found him out but still breathing. Somehow he pulled him to the camera hatch and snapped on his chest-pack chute. Putting his legs and his arms about him, Red gently coerced or pushed their bodies free of the plane, out the camera hatch--to that empty space between them and earth. Holding on to and falling together, Red first pulled Belcher's chute cord, having an inevitable result, separatingJames at hospital the opened chute from him, then continued his fall to provide space between them before pulling his own cord. From his new position, he watched for life in the swinging chute nearby and contemplated how he would help his mate after they landed.

Further details of this incident are not known to me, but after capture, the two men were held in the same room at a Bulgarian hospital. My interest in talking to Red before his death in 2004 was to ask him about the omitted phase of their capture and how he cared for his wounded buddy until picked up by the Bulgarian captors. As the MACR reflects, Belcher died a week later in the hospital. I knew that Red must have been overtaken by grief now that his new friend whom he so carefully had saved now lie in death before him. It is a story that still grips my mind and oh how often I wish that I had started the book earlier.


Bob Johnson


In his own words, this is the story told by James in a news article of what took place after bailing out of the B-24:

Sgt O'Neal was hit in the heel by flak and his two companions (Cpl Lannon and T/SgtS/Sgt James O'Neal Belcher) were both injured. One of his companions (Sgt Ingmar Hippe) landed in Romania, but the wind blew the other two into Bulgaria where they were taken prisoner by a group of peasants armed with shovels and pick-axes. A wagon was secured and the two wounded Americans were carried to an army hospital inside Bulgaria, and placed in a goat shed. A few hours later, they were taken into the hospital and into the operation room. They were tied to the operation tables and without benefit of anesthetics of any kind, underwent operations on their wounds. While the operation was going on, a Bulgarian farmer came into the room and stated that O'Neal's companion had bombed his home. He began beating the man on the operation table. 'The doctor just laughed," O'Neal said.
When the operation was completed, the men were taken back to the goat-shed. There they were left for three days. Sgt O'Neal said he was then taken to a nice room in the hospital, where a bed was made with clean sheets. On the table nearby was good food. He was told that a woman who spoke English would come to talk to him and he was given three injections which they said would make him go to sleep.
Dogtags of James O'NealA couple of hours later the Bulgarian women arrived. She asked how the sergeant was feeling and how was the treatment he was getting. James replied that he did not like the treatment he was getting. She asked about where he lived and about his family and he answered her questions. Then she started asking questions to get military information. When asked where he flew from in the bomber, O'Neal answered, "From New York." When the woman doubted his word, he said, "Yes we flew over from New York and intended to bomb the country, and get back in time for a date tonight." She also asked how many men were in his crew and he replied that he did not know because it was dark when they got in the plane and he could not see how many men were in the plane. For his answers to these questions, all of which the woman wrote down in a little book, Sgt O'Neal was beaten by a Bulgarian officer and then taken back to the goat shed. Later the men were placed in a hospital and remained there for two months.
Twice while they were in the Bulgarian hospital, they were bombed by Americans. They were not allowed to go to the air raid shelter.
"All we could do was lie there and hope that none of the bombs would hit us. Once a bomb fell about 60 yards from the hospital," Sgt O'Neal recalled.


In Prisoner of War Camp:
After two months, the Bulgarian doctors said that they could do no more for them and they were sent to a prisoner of war camp. The building in which they were housed was built to hold 150 men and there were 328 men there. They slept on the floor and sometimes had one blanket for two men. They were given 50 gallons of water for the 328 men per day, which meant that there was enough to drink but none with which to wash. After six weeks, they got a little more water than this and were able to save up enough to wash every five or six days. "First two months I was there, I ate bean soup twice a day and the last three months I was there, I ate cabbage soup twice a day," Sgt O'Neal reported. They were given a bowl of soup and a loaf of bread twice a day. The bread was from four to nine days old. The prison was filthy and crawling with lice, bed bugs and fleas. The prisoners were beaten by the guards, and generally mistreated, Sgt O'Neal said.

Goes to Istanbul, Turkey:

James in TurkeyIn September, when the Russians pushed into Bulgaria, theJames in TurkeyBulgarians allowed the prisoners to board trains for Istanbul, Turkey, just scant hours before the Russians completed the conquest of the country. In Istanbul, they were placed in a hospital and were given proper care and treatment. One day the governor of Turkey came to visit them. He asked them what they wanted to eat, and they answered "ice cream." A large dish of ice cream was sent to each man. The governor then took them on a sightseeing tour of Istanbul.
They remained here for 16 days and then were placed aboard C-46 transports and flown back to Italy. After two weeks there, they were sent back to the United States, and arrived a few days later.


In the March 4, 1945 issue of the GAB, Grottaglie Airbase Newspaper was this article on the Award James received :

Distinguished Service CrossSgt James A O'Neal, 719th Squadron recently was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
He stands alone as the only enlisted man to achieve this honor since the 449th's activation. S/Sgt James O'Neal was flying as an aerial photographer that eventful day, April 04, 1944. He was participating in a mission aimed at destroying the rail facilities of Bucharest, when his formation was attacked by enemy fighters and heavy anti-aircraft fire. Cannon shells penetrated the plane, wounded the left waist gunner and killing the right waist and ball turret gunners. Flak struck O'Neal in the left foot shattering his heel and ankle as he was photographing the area. Despite his severe wounds he kept to his post taking pictures until his camera, struck by another flak shell, was blown from the hatch.
Although suffering from intense pain and with complete disregard of his own safety, he crawled to the waist window, repaired and untangled the ammunition belts. He then commenced firing at the swarms of attacking fighters, contributing to the final destruction of 40 Nazi planes. With two engines shot out and the bomb bays a blazing inferno, the pilot ordered the crew to abandon the plane. Fighting with all his will power to retain consciousness James noticed that the left waist gunner was unable to leave the plane because of his severe wounds. The rest of this story is told above.


His military awards and decorations (click on the Medals to see)

Medals of S/Sgt James O'Neal Distinguished Flying Cross Distinguished Service Cross Purple Heart Medal Europe/Africa/Midle East Campaign American Campaign Medal Airmedal American Service Medal Army Good conduct Medal WWII Victory Medal Distinguished Service Cross (2-45)
Distinguished Flying Cross
Air Medal with Oak Leaf Clusters (awarded during combat flying status-1944)
American Campaign Medal
Presidential Citation (4-4-44 raid to Bucharest, photographer on William Thieme Crew)
Purple Heart (4-4-44 mission to Bucharest)
Prisoner of War Medal
European Theatre Medal with battle stars

American Army Good conduct Medal
Bronze Star Medal


The MACR pages on James O'Neal and the National WII Memorial, newspaper clips on his missing in action.
click on imageclick on imageclick on imageMissing in actionMIAMIA
Here the only letter he was authorized to write from " Shumen POW camp " via The Red Cross.
POW letterFront envelopeBack envelope

James O'Neal's gravestone and some clips of when he was a Prisoner of War, his brother who was a radio operator on a B-29 Superfortress, and the Award Card that accompanied the Distinguished Service Cross.

James GraveSgt O'Neal POWPOWJames WoundedCharles O'NealDoc Award

Return to the USA, newspaper clips of Texas newspapers and letter from a friend.
Click on the clips in the collage to read!
Newspaper clips Texan Newspapers Texan Newspapers Texan Newspapers Texan Newspapers Texan Newspapers Texan Newspapers Letter friendLetter friend

With special thanks to Shirley Lissard and her son, Scott, for the pics, letter and the story on her father who was an exceptional person and is still honored and missed by his family.