William John O’Neill, Jr.
Date/ Place of burial: November 1, 1944 / Lost at Sea –
10-48 N 125-22 E; Listed on Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery
William John O’Neill, Jr., graduated from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy on February 28, 1944. During his Sea Year, Cadet-Midshipman William J. O’Neill sailed as Engine Cadet board the Standard Oil Tanker SS Dean Emery from December 9, 1942 until May 28, 1943. During this time the ship made voyages to the United Kingdom and Caribbean. Ensign O’Neill reported aboard the USS Abner Read (DD-526) on June 12, 1944. As a merchant marine engineer he , and was assigned to duty as one of the ship’s Assistant Engineering Officers.
Beginning on October 29, the USS Abner Read was employed as a patrol and screen
ship in Task Group 77, in Leyte Gulf. On November 1, the vessel was screening
several ships, including the U.S.S. Mississippi (BB-41) and several other battleships and
cruisers. These ships were part of a major offensive the previous week in which a
major Japanese fleet was destroyed in the Battle of Surigao Strait.
At 0930, the formation was attacked by Japanese kamikaze aircraft, damaging the USS
Claxton (DD-571), the USS Ammen (DD-527), and the USS Killen (DD-593). The
Abner Read was directed to leave the screen and stand by the Claxton, which was
alternately lying to and going ahead slowly on one engine. The Abner Read sent a boat
with a medical officer, repair personnel, and oxygen over to the Claxton, and the
Claxton was able to proceed towards the transport area at about 10 knots. The Abner
Read escorted the vessel, traveling about 1500 yards ahead of the Claxton.
At 1340, a Japanese aircraft attacked the Abner Read, crashing into the starboard side,
even after a wing had been shot off the aircraft during its approach. The impact caused
a raging fire in the entire after portion of the ship, including the After Fire Room and
Engine Room. There were no communications with the forward part of the ship, and
much of the ship’s firefighting capability had been disabled. About 10 minutes later, one
of the ammunition magazines in the after section of the ship exploded and the ship
immediately listed 10o to port. At this point the Commanding Officer ordered the crew
to abandon ship. The Abner Read sank stern first at 1417, after the surviving crew had
escaped. Ensign O’Neill was on duty in the After Engine Room when the ship was
attacked. He remained in the After Engine Room until all his men had been evacuated,
and then directed the evacuation of wounded men off the stern of the ship. O’Neill’s
body was not recovered.
Ensign William J. O’Neill, USNR was posthumously awarded the Silver Star and Purple
Heart. He is believed to be the first Kings Pointer to be awarded the Silver Star, the
Nation’s third highest military decoration for valor. The recommendation for the award
of the Silver Star to Ensign O’Neill states,
“As the officer in charge of the after engineroom of a destroyer
attacked by a suicidal Japanese dive bomber, he remained
steadfastly at his post despite the immediate danger of nearby
fire and explosion until all personnel under his authority were
evacuated. Making his way to the main deck, he directed, with
utter disregard for his own safety, the evacuation of wounded
men trapped on the stern by flames, and was thereby
instrumental in the major portion of these men reaching safety.”
For his merchant marine service he earned the Atlantic War Zone Bar. At the time of his death William J. O’Neill was married to Catherine Ann O’Neill, who was living in Woodside, Queens, New York.
U.S.S. Abner Read (DD-526), 1943