Jonathan George O'Neill was born on March 28, 1921 the son of Alpheus and Ethel O'Neill in Hartland, Niagara County in New York State to the north of Buffalo. Later, the family moved to the nearby town of Gasport, New York. His father was a World War I veteran who served in the U. S. Army Quartermaster Corps. He had two younger siblings: Paul N. O'Neill and Frances M. O'Neill. The children grew up on the family farm and helped raise chickens and cherries. In his youth, he was known as both "John" and "Johnny".
O'Neill graduated Lockport High School class of 1939 and was a member of school band and Hi-Y (a YMCA group). During the autumn of 1939, he enrolled in Cornell University class of 1943 and attended the college of agriculture until his sophomore year until the spring of 1941 when he enlisted in the U. S. Army. In the U. S. Census 1940 O'Neill was age nineteen and his profession was listed as a waiter in a restaurant in the U. S. Census of 1940. During the fall of 1940, O'Neill joined the first civilian pilot training program at Ithaca Airport and learned to fly and became a licensed pilot.
U. S. Army Air Force
At age 21, O'Neill enlisted in the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as an Air Corps aviation cadet serial number 12030293. He was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant with serial number O-659837. He completed basic flight training at Randolph Field in Texas flying the PT-19, BT-9 and AT-6. Next, he completed advanced training at Moore Field in Texas. By May 1942, he had logged 200 hours of flight time before transitioning to the P-38 Lightning. Afterwards, stationed at Hamilton Field in California where he continued to fly the P-38 Lightning and befriended Richard Ira "Dick" Bong. The pair was nearly received a court-martial when Bong buzzed a friend's house and O'Neill flew under the Golden Gate Bridge at San Francisco. Instead, both were deployed overseas departing flying across the Pacific to Australia.
On August 29, 1942 O'Neill was flown overseas to Australia arriving on September 2. Assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF) as a fighter pilot, possibly attached to the 17th Provisional Squadron (17th PS) or 39th Fighter Squadron (39th FS) on a temporary basis.
During December 1942 he was flying P-38 training missions from Amberley Field west of Brisbane. On December 4, 1942 O'Neill survived an aerial collision on a training mission when P-38F "Synchronized Sal" 42-12646 piloted by 2nd Lt. Rowsey accidentally collided with his aircraft. Damaged, O'Neill managed to trim his P-38 to fly on one engine and made a safe landing. The other pilot 2nd Lt. Rowsey became caught on his own tail boom and died on impact.
Assigned to the 49th Fighter Group (49th FG), 9th Fighter Squadron (9th FS) "The Flying Knights". O'Neill was assigned P-38G "Beautiful Lass" 43-2204
Squadron Number 99 and flew combat missions from 14 Mile Drome (Schwimmer) near Port Moresby then Horanda Airfield (Dobodura No. 4) and Kiriwina Airfield. He flew combat missions over New Guinea including Lae and Oro Bay plus missions over New Britain against Rabaul. He often flew with squadron mates: Richard I. Bong, Gerald R. Johnson, Carl G. Planck, Jr. and Ralph H. Wandrey.
In New Guinea, O'Neill shared a tent with 1st Lt. Theron D. Price and the two became good friends and together took their rest and recouperation in Sydney. On October 13, 1943 Price went Missing In Action (MIA) piloting P-38H "Charlcie Jeann" 42-66516 due to bad weather flying bound for Rabaul.
Aerial Victory Claims
O'Neill was officially credited with eight aerial victories between March 4, 1943 to October 29, 1943. During a two week period between (October 15–29, 1943) O'Neill claimed six of his eight victories. On October 24, 1943 he became an "ace" with five aerial victory claims. All of his victory claims were against Japanese fighter aircraft in the air. In New Guinea, O'Neill earned the nickname "Jump" because he was expert in jumping the enemy, shooting them down and avoiding their return fire. He was often photographed with a cigar.
March 4, 1943 – Battle of the Bismarck Sea
On March 4, 1943 during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea O'Neill claimed a Ki-43-I Oscar over Lae. This was his first aerial victory cliam.
March 28, 1943 – Victory over Oro Bay
On March 28, 1943 O'Neill claimed his second aerial victory off piloting P-38G "Beautiful Lass" 43-2204 as one of eight P-38s on a mission to intercept Japanese bombers escorted by Zeros bound for Oro Bay. This was his second aerial victory, scored on his 22nd birthday.
April 5, 1943 – Nose Gear Collapse
On April 5, 1943 O'Neill took off piloting P-38 "Elsie" Squadron Number 88 normally assigned to Captain Clay Tice. Returning to land at Horanda Airfield (Dobodura No. 4), the aircraft suffered a nose wheel strut collapsed and came to rest with the nose in the mud with the tail in the air. Afterwards, the aircraft was photographed and later written off.
October 17, 1943 – Victory over Buna
On October 17, 1943 O'Neill took off from Horanda Airfield (Horanda 4) piloting P-38G "Beautiful Lass" 43-2204 leading "Red Flight" with wingman 1st Lt. Ralph Wandrey as part of a dozen P-38s from the 9th FS on a mission to intercept Japanese fighters near Oro Bay. Vectored by the ground controller, the formation made a wide left turn while climbing to 25,000' and flew towards Buna. A formation of enemy planes was spotted identified as Ki-43 Oscars and Ki-61 Tonys. The P-38s made a head on pass led by "Green Flight" followed by "Red Flight". Together, O'Neill and Wandrey attacked a pair of fighters turning and claimed both shot down with front quarter deflection shots. Afterwards, the pair turned into other enemy fighters and Wandrey claimed another as heavily damaged before they disengaged.
October 24, 1943 – Double Victory Over Rabaul
On October 24, 1943 O'Neill took off piloting P-38G "Beautiful Lass" 43-2204 leading "Green Flight" on a mission over Rabaul. Over the target, he claimed his fifth and six victories as he and two other pilots dove down from 6,000' down onto three Zeros flying at 3,000'. He made several ineffective passes at one, finally shooting the entire tail off a Zero at a 45 degree deflection. Minutes later, he put another burst into a second Zero, causing it to fly straight and crash into a hill. Returning from the mission, O'Neill was photographed in the cockpit when he made ace. The first photo was taken after returning from the mission. The second photo shows him smoking a cigar and holding up five fingers celebrating his fifth victory making him an ace pilot.
October 29, 1943 – Double Victory Over Rabaul
On October 29, 1943 O'Neill claimed a double victory over Rabaul. These were his seven and eight victories, the last aerial claims he made.
On November 7, 1943 O'Neill led the 9th Fighter Squadron on a combat mission to escort B-24 Liberators over Rabaul. He made no victory claims. Lost was P-38G 43-2199 piloted by 2nd Lt. Stanley W. Johnson (MIA).
Return to the United States
On December 4, 1943 O'Neill departed the South West Pacific Area (SWPA) and was flown back across the Pacific to the United States two days later. He returned home to Gasport, NY for three weeks of rest and recuperation, his first trip home since his enlistment in the U. S. Army. On December 21, 1943 he returned to Ithaca Airport to visit the Ithaca Flying Service where he learned to fly in 1940. Fellow pilot and friend Richard Ira "Dick" Bong accompanied him on the trip and the pair went on a War Bond tour in the United States.
In 1944, he was assigned to the 440th U. S. Army Air Force Base Unit (440th AAFBU) at Santa Maria Army Air Field and lived in Santa Maria in California. On October 4, 1944 he married Glow Maxwell of Los Angeles who he met in California at Santa Maria Army Air Base in California. On September 17, 1945 O'Neill was discharged from Fort Dix, New Jersey. In total, O'Neill served 2 years, 1 month and 10 days in the United States and one year, 3 months and 7 days overseas between enlistment on April 30, 1942 until discharge on September 17, 1945.
For his World War II service, O'Neill earned a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) with two clusters, Silver Star, Air Medal with oak leaf cluster (awarded by Lt. General George C. Kenney), Asiatic Pacific Theater campaign ribbon and American Theater campaign ribbon.
Silver Star citation: "First Lieutenant (Air Corps) John G. O'Neill (ASN: 0-659837), United States Army Air Forces, was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action against the enemy as a fighter pilot of the 9th Fighter Squadron, 49th Fighter Group, Fifth Air Force, in action against the enemy in aerial combat in the Pacific Theater of Action during World War II. His gallant actions and dedicated devotion to duty, without regard for his own life, were in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army Air Forces." via Hall of Valor - John G. O'Neill - Silver Star
In a letter to his parents, Lt. General George C. Kenney C. O. 5th Air Force wrote about his award of the Air Medal with oak leaf cluster: "This award was made in recognition of his courageous, fearless service to his combat organization, his fellow American airmen, his country, his home and to you. Your son was decorated for meritorious achievement while participating in aerial fights in the Southwest Pacific area. Almost every hour of the day your son, and the sons of other Americans, are making a very real and very tangible contribution to a victory and to peace. I would like to tell you how genuinely proud I am to have men such as your son in my command, and how gratified I am to know that young Americans with such courage and resourcefulness are fighting our country's battle against the aggressor nations." via Lockport Union-Sun & Journal "Gasport Flier Gets 3rd Award" circa 1943.
In 1946, O'Neill started the first crop dusting service in Niagara County, New York. The couple had two children: Margaret and Nancy, then divorced in 1958. During 1959 he married Dolores Arnold of Pennsylvania who was also a pilot and instructor and had two children: Tracey and John.
Later, the couple moved to Miami, Florida.
O'Neill passed away from leukemia at Veterans Hospital Miami, Florida on September 30, 1966 likely as a result of the pesticides used in his postwar crop dusting career. He is buried at Hartland Central Cemetery in Hartland, NY with two markers: a stone that reads: "Jonathan G O'Neill 1921–1966" and a military markers that reads: "John G. O'Neill New York Capt 440 Base Unit AAF World War II SS-DFC-AM March 28, 1921 Sept 30, 1966".
Paul O'Neill (brother)
Jonathan O'Neill (son)
"In total, my dad had 4 kids. With his first wife (1944-58), he had my step-sisters, Margaret and Nancy (who now live in Virginia Beach). With my mom (1959-66), there was me and my sister, Tracey, who now lives in Lake Bluff, IL. I have always been interested in World War II, especially the Pacific,
because that is where my father flew. I had heard the stories about his combat exploits
since I was little. As
I got older, I found out more: that he was an ace; that he flew wing for Richard Bong, America's top ace in World War II. Since I was about ten, I have read just
about everything I could get on the Pacific conflict. These
days, I am an editor at The Miami Herald. I also have a private pilot's license
and am a fairly experienced video and film editor. My father died from leukemia when i was six in 1966, so most of my knowledge of him comes from others, but they all seemed to think he was this larger than life kind of character. He had a brother, Paul, and a sister Frances, both still living. According to his fellow pilots, he was described as a helluva pilot, who had no fear.
They told that Bong had to get in very close to shoot, and that my dad was tucked right in there with him. When he married my mother (also a pilot) they moved to Miami, Florida where my sister and I were born. What snippets I do remember of him always revolved around flying. It was a common theme in the house, and I heard flying terms from the time I was born. I got my pilot's license when I was 20 - it seemed almost a natural thing to do."
75th Anniversary Trip to New Guinea
During March to April 2018, O'Neill traveled to Papua New Guinea with Justin Taylan of Pacific Wrecks to visit the places his father served including Port Moresby, Dobodura and Rabaul. The visit began with the pair visiting 14 Mile Drome (Schwimmer) near Port Moresby where O'Neill flew his first combat missions during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea.
Next, the pair traveled to Dobodura to see the airfield and camp area where he was based. Jon visited Sangara School where he made a donation in honor of his parents to aid the education of students. On March 28, 2018 he visited the shore of Oro Bay on the 75th anniversary of John O'Neill's 22nd birthday and the his second aerial victory of a Zero.
Finally, they visited Rabaul where O'Neill and toured Tobera Airfield where his father claimed a double on October 29, 1943. He also climbed to the summit of Tuvuvur volcano. While there, the pair experienced an earthquake and visted the Volcano observatory.
United States Federal Census 1930 - Jonathan G. O'Neill age 9
High School Yearbook 1937 page 57 Band (photo) J. O'Neill
Lockport High School
Yearbook 1938 page 39 Band (photo) John O'Neill
Lockport High School Yearbook 1938 page 54 Hi-Y (photo) John O'Neill
The Cornell Daily Sun, Volume LIX, Number 159, 6 May 1939 — 700 Subfreshmen Register at W-S "O'Neill , John, Lockport, N. Y."
United States Federal Census 1940 - Jonathan O'Neill age 19
Logbook of John G. O'Neill 1941–1942
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Jo N G ONeill
"Dangerous and Unauthorized Flying" by John G. O'Neill 1942
USAF Historical Study No. 85 USAF Credits For The Destruction of Enemy Aircraft, World War II Alphabetical: O'Neill, John G. page 144 (PDF page 151),
Alphabetical by theater of operation (SWP): O'Neill John G.: 03/04/43 page 340 (PDF page 346), 03/28/43 page 340 (PDF page 346), 10/15/43 page 347 (PDF page 353), 10/17/43 page 347 (PDF page 353), 10/24/43 (two kills) page 348 (PDF page 354), 10/29/43 (two kills) page 348 (PDF page 354), Chronological List: 03/04/43 page 379 (PDF page 384), 03/28/43 page 380 (PDF page 355), 10/15/43 page 400 (PDF page 405), 10/17/43 page 401 (PDF page 406), 10/24/43 (two kills) page 402 (PDF page 407), 10/29/43 (two kills) page 403 (PDF page 408) and 9th FTR SQ page 531-532 (PDF page 535-536)
AFHRA 370th Service Squadron / 17th PS (IRIS 00070873) History 370th Service Squadron pages 1-2
"On December 4th, while engaged in a routine training mission as a member of a flight, 2nd Lt. Charles F. Rowsey suddenly locked wings with another plane in the same flight piloted by 2nd Lt. John O'Neill. Lt. O'Neill quickly brought his plane under control, returning to Amberley Field and landed safely."
AFHRA 9ht Fighter Squadron, Weekly Status and Operations Reports 11-01-42 to 12-31-44 (IRIS 00055659)
Form 34 Weekly Status and Operations (Report for Period Mar 28 to April 3, 43 inclusive)
"Mission: 152 Date and time of take off: 3/28 1059 | Type of mission: 4-H | Name Location: Interception over Bismark [sic] Sea east of Oro Bay (*) Three enemy fighters (Haps) [A6M3 Zero] definitely destroyed our losses nil. Observed bombing of large ship [SS Bantam] in Oro Bay. Could not see if there were any direct hits, a number of PT Boats headed out to ship after bombing, interception was made just offshore at Oro Bay at 1200 hrs. At altitude of 5 ft to 27,000 ft. Enemy tactics usually manuver [sic], hammer head and split s’s turns our tactics, diving passes and evasive manuvers [sic].
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal "Completes Flight Training" 1942
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal "O'Neill Bags Zero On His Birthday" 1942
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal "Gasport Flier Gets 3rd Award" 1943
The Ithaca Journal "Cornell Flier Who Downed 8 Zeros Coming Home for Rest" December 7, 1943
"Capt. John G. O'Neill, the P-38 pilot who flew wing to wing with this theater's greatest ace, is going home for a rest. "Jump," as O'Neill is known by his pals in New Guinea and Australia has a nifty little string of eight Zeros to his credit, four of them in three days. Most of his flying was done in element with Capt. Richard I. Bong, Poplar, Wis., who with 21 enemy planes is the ranking Army fighter pilot of this theater... After the gang settled down in New Guinea, where they carved a garden-like camp site from the jungle thickets, O'Neill struck up a friendship with First Lieut Theon [sic] Price from Seiper, La. Price and "Jump" shared the same hut, took their leaves in Sydney together, and were buddies in every sense of the word. Less than a month ago [October 14, 1943]
Price failed to return from a mission and "Jump" took it pretty hard. On his next two missions out in a period of three days [sic, October 24-29, 1943] O'Neill shot down four Japanese planes. Shortly after that his orders came through to report for home."
The Ithaca Journal "Aviator Returns For Visit" December 29, 1943
Buffalo Evening News "Johnny Got a Zero on his 22d Birthday" May 26, 1943
Oakland Tribune "Where Do Japs Get Pilot Replacements? Ask Yank" February 4, 1944
Associated Press (AP) New York State aviators by Murlin Spencer
"it was O'Neill who went out and shot down four Japanese planes in three days after his buddy was killed. He is back in the states now."
The Ithaca Journal "Ithacan's Part In Pacific War Described" March 15, 1944
"An Associated Press story written by Murlin Spencer from Allied Headquarters in the Southwest Pacific tells about men from New York State and the part they played in the second year  of the war in that area.
Capt. John G. O’Neill of Gasport, a member of the Class of 1943 at Cornell, attacking four bombers attempting to raid Oro Bay in New Guinea, and, picking out the leader, sent it crashing into the sea. Then with two Zeros on his tail he slashed into another formation of four Zeros to break it up. He has destroyed eight Jap planes to date, according to the Spencer story, and ‘it was O’Neill who went out and shot down four Japanese planes in three days after his buddy was killed. He is back in the states now.”
Union Sun & Journal "Gasport Air Hero Is Wed In Impressive Service At California Base Chapel" October 12, 1944
The Ithaca Journal "Cornell Man, Ace, Downs 8 Jap Planes" November 4, 1944
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal "Jump' O'Neill Returns Home" 1945
U. S. Army Military Record and Report of Separation Certificate of Service - Captain John G. O'Neill March 11, 1946
Democrat and Chronicle "Airplane Dusting Set Tomorrow for Tomatoes" August 26, 1946
"John G. O'Neill of Gasport will dust the 45-acre tomato field of Dwight Northrup in Manitou Road, Handy said... The minimum acreage that O'Neill will dust, Handy said is five to seven, and the work will be done in order of applications received by the Farm Bureau."
FindAGrave - Jonathan G O'Neill (obituary, grave photo)
"John O'Neill Gazette Lockport Bureau GASPORT-John O'Neill, 45, formerly of this community, died at Veterans Hospital Miami, Friday (Sept. 30, 1966) after a long illness. Mr. O'Neill, one of the most decorated World War II veterans of this area, was the first "ace" pilot of New York State in the war. He was born March 28, 1921 in Buffalo, the son of the late Alpheus O'Neill, and Mrs. Ethel Wilson O'Neill. He graduated from Lockport Senior High School in 1939 and attended Cornell University for two years. He joined the U.S. Army Air Corps in August, 1941 and was commissioned a second lieutenant on April 30, 1942. He was a P-38 fighter pilot during the war. When released from the corps on Sept. 17, 1945 at Ft. Dix, N.J., he was a captain. He earned these decorations for his wartime service -in the Asiatic and Pacific theater— Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf, clusters, the Air Medal with an oak leaf cluster, and the Silver Star for meritorious service. His unit also received a Presidential citation. Mr. O'Neill was a member of Gasport Masonic Lodge 787, F. & A. M., Bryan Memorial Methodist Church of Coconut Grove, Fla. At the time of his death he was a Miami stockbroker. After military service he also had lived in Texas and New York City. He is survived by his mother, this community; his widow, Mrs. Dolores O'Neill; three daughters, Margaret, Nancy and Tracy O'Neill, all of Miami; a son, Jonathan, Miami; a sister, Mrs. Frances Foote, Barker; and a brother, Paul O'Neill; this community. Rev. Arthur Wright, Hartland Methodist Church, will conduct services at the Bream Funeral Home here at 11 a.m. Monday. Burial will be in Hartland Central Cemetery. Friends may call from 2 to 9 p.m. today and Sunday."
Union Sun & Journal "Johnny Zero Dies; O'Neill Was War Ace" October 1, 1966
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal "Hartland Hero Recalled on Veteran's Day" November 10, 1989
Holloman Air Force Base "History of the 9th Attack Squadron" October 12, 2012
"Aces of the 9th Fighter Squadron: 1st Lt. John G. O'Neill"
49th Fighter Group by Ernest R. McDowell (1989) pages 57 (photos), 64 (ace list)
Into The Dragon’s Jaws (1987) pages 58-60 (October 28, 1943)
Dear Mom So We Have A War (1991) pages 143, 197, 237, 324, 570 (index - O'Neill)
Stars & Bars (1995) pages 35-36 (49th FG, 9th FS), 483 (O'Neill)
Protect & Avenge (1995) pages 118 (photo), 130, 164, 180-181, 199-200, 203-204 (October 17, 1943 mission and victory), 206-208 (October 24, 1943 mission and double victories), 210-211 (October 29, 1943), 207 (photo as ace), 210 (photo "Beautiful Lass"), 214, 358 (index)
P-38 Lightning Aces of the Pacific and CBI (1997) pages 27, 33 (photo), 89 (ace list)
49th Fighter Group: Aces of the Pacific (2004) by William Hess pages 39, 73, 79, 80, 82, 91, 110, 123, 125, 128 (index)
Jungle Ace (2001) page 74, 99-100, 145
[Page 74] "Like McGuire, he [Wally Jordan] turned some people off, such as one of the squadron's old hands named 'Jump' O'Neil [sic]. O'Neil watched with chagrin as Wally beat him to Captain, something that Jump thought he deserved more than Wally did. After that, he would always address Wally as 'Captain' in a sneering, almost derisive tone. 'I don't know what that guy's problem was...,' recalled Wally years later."
[Page 99] [August 2, 1943] Blue flight, Jerry his wingman Stanley Johnson, and James [sic] 'Jump O'Neil [sic] watched the dogfight Wally and Grover Ganning precipitated unfold as they climbed to engage the other Oscars of the high-cover flight.
Behind Jerry, Jump O'Neil was in trouble. Like Fanning, he couldn't get his [drop] tanks loose either, but he tried to stay with his flight mates as they waded into the Oscars. He immediately attracted unwanted attention and a Ki 43 slid behind him and gave chase. Jump put the nose down and firewalled the throttles, running flat-out away form the menace on his P-38. Finally after several minutes of this race, the Oscar fell behind and broke off the chase, giving Jump a chance to get rid of his"
[Page 100] tank. He finally got one loose, then ripped the other off in a dive, and he turned back towards the fight, climbing to 10,000 feet. After patrolling for several minutes without sighting the enemy, Jump called it a day and headed for home."
[Page 145] The Flying Knights returned to Rabaul on November 7 . This time, Captain Jump O'Neil [sic] led the squadron - or what was left of it. The outfit was down to eight flyable birds, and all were in bad shape. Among those flying with Jump that day were Dick Bong and Stanley Johnson."
Hall of Valor - John G. O'Neill - Silver Star
49th Fighter Group - USAAF - Ciel De Gloire John G. O'Neill
Pinturas Aviacion II Guerra Mundial Hasegawa box artwork "1943 P38 Beautiful Lass 49 FG 9 FS Lt. John O'Neill"
"Early P-38 Aces" by Mark Postlethwaite artwork depicts P-38G "Beautiful Lass" 43-2204 over Rabaul on October 29, 1943
The National "Tracing dad’s wartime steps" by By Alphonse Bariasi March 29, 2018
Associated Press (AP) "Son retraces US war hero dad’s footsteps in Papua New Guinea" by Rod McGuirk April 3, 2018
Associated Press (AP) "College honoring deceased US ace who left to fight in WWII" May 25, 2018
Cornell Chronicle "World War II ace earns posthumous award from Cornell" by Matt Hayes May 31, 2018
National Public Radio (NPR) "Ghosts Of World War II Under The Islands Of Papua New Guinea" by Durrie Bouscaren September 9, 2018 interview with Pacific Wrecks/Justin Taylan (3:01) and Jon O'Neill about his father John O'Neill (3:35).
"John O’Neill Combat Summaries for Aerial Victory Claims" research by Justin Taylan
Thanks to Jon O'Neill, Justin Taylan and Donna Esposito for additional research
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