Paul O’Neil’s commitment to God, country and getting a job done with honor and excellence made him a leader of men, a true officer and gentleman, and one hell of an engineer.
Born in New York City, the second son of Cosmo D. O’Neil and Marie DeHierapolis, Paul first distinguished himself as a Regis High School honors graduate. He spent one year in the ROTC at Fordham University and entered the United States Military Academy in 1936. While at West Point, Paul co-captained the swim team and the track teams. He graduated 19th in his class with a degree in engineering in 1940.
His Army career began in Fort DuPont, Delaware as a second lieutenant assigned to the 1st Engineer Battalion. In 1941 Paul married the former Mary C. Walsh of Brooklyn, New York. Shortly thereafter, Paul was assigned to the European Theater of Operations as commanding officer of the 284th Engineer Combat Battalion. This unit operated with the 6th and 7th Armored Divisions in the famous Battle of the Bulge, the Central European Campaign and the Rhineland Campaign. Paul and his men were responsible for getting the armored division across the Luddendorg Bridge in Roer, Germany, enabling it to get into Remagen 20 minutes before the German Army. Paul’s insight and understanding of military tactics, coupled with his leadership qualities, led to field promotions up to the rank of lieutenant colonel.
In 1944 he returned to West Point as an instructor in Military History. One year later, he was assigned to Mobile, Alabama to serve as assistant district engineer. Paul earned his Master of Science degree in civil engineering from Harvard School of Engineering in 1947 and was on his way to Stephenville, Newfoundland as engineer in charge of building E. Harmon Air Force Base. This was a 47 million dollar undertaking and Paul was responsible for the project being completed ahead of schedule and under budget. His next assignment was to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey.
Camp Kilmer was the Prisoner Rehabilitation Center, and Paul’s job as post engineer called for him to rebuild the post. In 1954 Camp Kilmer was closed and everything moved to Fort Dix, and Paul received orders to the 7th Division, 13th Combat Engineer Battalion, Korea. While in Korea Paul served as division engineer, 7th Infantry Division, then later as G-4 on the General Staff of the 7th Division. He was appointed chief of staff of the 7th Division in February 1955, an assignment he held until August 1955. His engineers designed and built Camp Casey and Schnover Bowl Stadium. Paul’s diligence and ability to solve highly complex problems and engineering difficulties posed by weather and terrain earned him the admiration of those who worked with him. He was awarded the Legion of Merit for his accomplishments in Korea.
Orders arrived for a stateside assignment to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn as Professor of Military Science and Tactics. Shortly after assuming his duties, Paul was promoted to full colonel, making him one of the youngest “Full bird” colonels in the Army at the age of 37. Paul served at Pratt for three years. His moral concepts, knowledge, and demands for excellence endeared him to his students. While at his next assignment in Fort Monroe, Virginia he received a petition from his former students asking for the honor of his presence at their graduation. This petition was unanimous and Paul kept it with his important papers, as he considered it a very high tribute.
The assignment at Fort Monroe was that of post engineer. He built the seawall to protect the fort from hurricane damage, he built roads and the post school, and maintained the quality of life for all who lived there. His judgment and leadership brought letters of appreciation from the Secretary of the Army, the Chief of Staff, United States Army, and his commanding general. Paul also worked with numerous civilian agencies and supported the Dad’s Club, Pee Wee Football, and Little League. Three years passed and orders arrived for Taipei, Taiwan with the Military Advisory Group. During his years in Taiwan he served as engineer advisor, Military Assistance Advisory Group. His sense of honor and his respect for the Chinese people strengthened the bonds of friendship between the Americans and the Chinese.
On the move again, this time to the United States Support Center in St. Louis, Missouri. Paul served as the commanding officer of the Support Center from 1965 until 1967. He was awarded his second Legion of Merit upon his retirement in 1967.
After 27 years of dedicated service, Paul retired to St. Petersburg, Florida. Three months of retirement was all it took to convince Paul that he still had cities to build. He became city engineer and chief of construction for the city of St. Petersburg until 1982; then he did retire to enjoy Florida life. He died 1 March 1988.
His awards and decorations include American Defense Service Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Army of Occupation Medal Germany, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, four Overseas Bars, Korean Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal, Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, and Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster.
Paul F. O’Neil, a man proud as the eagles he wore on his shoulders, of being a soldier, a gentleman, a man of God, a father and grandfather, and one damn good engineer. We cannot put a man’s soul on paper; God holds it in the palm of his hand until we meet again; however, man does go on in those who love and remember him. Paul O’Neil, you are well loved and remembered. Survivors include Mary C. O’Neil, wife; Cosmo G. O’Neil and Leo C. O’Neil, brothers; children Edward and Penny Meskunas, Paul and Fran O’Neil, Bill and Kathy Lang, Michael and Melissa O’Neil, Robert and Cathi O’Neil, Daniel B. O’Neil, Patti and Chip Easton; and 14 grandchildren.
- Class of 1940