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First Name: Emmett

Last Name: O'Donnell

Birthplace: Brooklyn, NY, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Air Force (1947 - present)

Date of Birth: 15 September 1906

Date of Death: 01 January 1972

Rank: General

Years Served: 1928 - 1963
Emmett O'Donnell, Jr.

Graduate, U.S. Military Academy, Class of 1928

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)
•  Korean War (1950 - 1953)


Emmett O'Donnell, Jr.
General, U.S. Air Force

Emmett O'Donnell, Jr. was born on 15 September 1906 in Brooklyn, NY. He graduated from Manual Training High School in 1924 where he was a member of Omega Gamma Delta fraternity and from the U.S. Military Academy in 1928. Excelling in football, he played substitute halfback for All-Americans Harry Wilson and Chris "Red" Cagle at West Point.

Commissioned a Second Lieutenant of Infantry, he then received flying training at Brooks Field and Kelly Field, TX, earning his wings in March 1930. His initial flying assignment in the U.S. Army Air Corps was a six and one-half year tour with the 1st Pursuit Group at Selfridge Field, MI. During this time O'Donnell also served as an Airmail pilot with the Army Air Corps Mail Operations at Cleveland, OH, in the spring of 1934.

O'Donnell was promoted to Captain on 20 April 1935. In December 1936, Captain O'Donnell was assigned to the 18th Reconnaissance Group at Mitchel Field, NY, until 1940. While with this Group, he attended the Air Corps Tactical School at Maxwell Field, AL, graduating in August 1939. He was also Assistant Football Coach at West Point from 1934-38. Transferred to Hawaii in February 1940, he was assigned as a Squadron Commander of the 11th Bombardment Group.

He became a Major in January 1941. As the Japanese' intentions in Southeast Asia became apparent in the fall of 1941, the Army Air Force sent air reinforcements to General Douglas MacArthur. Major O'Donnell and his 14th Bombardment Squadron set out from Hickam Field to the Philippines via Midway, Wake, New Guinea and Australia, on 5 September. A week later, all nine of the B-17s landed at Clark Field in Manila. This was the first mass flight of land planes to cross the western Pacific from Hawaii to the Philippines.

World War II

After the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, O'Donnell's group fought in the air, and later with the Infantry, until they were forced to withdraw to Bataan and then to Mindanao. O'Donnell and some of his group later moved to Java. Before the war in the Pacific was two days old, O'Donnell had earned the Distinguished Flying Cross. He left Clark Field during an enemy attack and flew to Vigan where he attacked a heavy cruiser and its destroyer escort. Due to faulty bomb releases he made five runs over the target, evading anti-aircraft fire and enemy fighters.

From when he arrived in Java in January 1942, until the beginning of March when the Japanese conquered the island, he served as Operations Officer of the Far East Air Force. He then evacuated to India, where he became Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations of the newly organized Tenth Air Force. O'Donnell was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in January 1942, and to Colonel the following March.

He returned home in 1943 as Chief of General Arnold's Advisory Council, a post he retained until he was appointed Commanding General of the 73d Bomb Wing at Smoky Hill Army Airfield in Salina, KS, a year later. O'Donnell was promoted to Brigadier General in February 1944. He trained the B-29 Superfortress Wing for six months at Smoky Hill and then led it to Saipan. The B-29s began the campaign against the Japanese homeland on 24 November 1944 when O'Donnell led 111 B-29s against industrial targets in Tokyo. Only 88 of the planes were able to bomb and the results were poor; partly because of bad weather. This was the first attack on Tokyo since the Doolittle Raid in April 1942.

Post-War Service

O'Donnell piloted one of three specially-modified B-29s flying from Japan to the U.S. in September 1945 and, in the process, breaking several aviation records at that date. These included: the greatest USAAF takeoff weight; the longest USAAF nonstop flight; and the first ever nonstop Japan-U.S. flight. The aircraft, all piloted by generals, used up too much fuel fighting unexpected headwinds, and they could not fly to Washington, DC, the original goal. * They decided to land at Chicago and refuel, then continue to Washington, where they all received Distinguished Flying Crosses.

* The other two generals were Major General Curtis LeMay and Lieutenant General Barney Giles; Anderson was still a Brigadier General. LeMay's aircraft had sufficient fuel to reach Washington, but he was directed by the War Department to join the others by refueling at Chicago. The order was ostensibly given because of borderline weather conditions in Washington, but according to First Lieutenant Ivan J. Potts who was aboard, the order came because LeMay had one less star (2 vs. Giles' 3) and should not be seen outperforming his superior.

After the war, O'Donnell was assigned to the Air Technical Service Command (later Air Materiel Command and then, on 1 April 1961, re-designated again as the Air Force Logistics Command) Headquarters at Wright Field where he served as Deputy Chief of the Engineering Division. He remained there until August 1946 when he was made Director of Information of the Army Air Force. O'Donnell was promoted to Major General in February 1947.

In September 1947, after the U.S. Air Force headquarters was established, he was designated Deputy Director of Public Relations. In January 1948, he was appointed Steering and Coordinating Member of the military representation on the Permanent Joint Board on Defense, Canada-U.S.; the Canada-U.S. Military Cooperation Committee; the Joint Mexico-U.S. Defense Commission; and the Joint Brazil-U.S. Defense Commission.

Korean War

O'Donnell became Commanding General of the 15th Air Force at Colorado Springs, CO, in October 1948 and, in November 1949, moved with that headquarters to March Air Force Base, CA. Early in 1950, as a result of United Nations action against communist forces in Korea, O'Donnell took a nucleus of his 15th Air Force staff for the Far East to Japan. Here he would organize and command the Far East Bomber Command with headquarters in Japan. His first B-29 units to arrive in Japan carried out a maximum bombing effort in Korea 36 hours after the first B-29 had arrived in Japan.

As North Korean troops moved steadily down Korea, outnumbered American troops retreated south. Army General Walton Walker decided to build a perimeter defense to shelter Pusan, the key port. As the Eighth U.S. Army built up its defenses, Communist troops massed across the Naktong River for a thrust at Taegu, less than 100 miles north of Pusan. To lessen this threat, O'Donnell led 98 B-29s on a bombing mission near Waegwan. During this period of temporary duty he retained command of the 15th Air Force with its headquarters at March Air Force Base.

O'Donnell returned to the U.S. in January 1951. Two years later he was appointed Deputy Chief of Personnel at Air Force Headquarters in Washington and promoted to Lieutenant General. He remained in that position until August 1959. That month he was appointed Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Air Forces, Hickam Air Force Base, HI, and promoted to the four-star rank of General.

He retired from the Air Force on 31 July 1963.

Medals and Awards

Distinguished Service Cross
Silver Star Medal
Legion of Merit
Distinguished Flying Cross (4 Awards)
Air Medal (2 Awards)
Presidential Unit Citation (2 Awards)
Korean Presidential Unit Citation
National Defense Service Medal
World War II Victory Medal
American Defense Ribbon with Bronze Star
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Ribbon with 6 Stars
American Campaign Medal
Philippine Defense Ribbon with Star
Philippine Independence Ribbon
Korean Military Service Medal with Silver Star (Taeguk)
Inter-American Defense Board Medal
United Nations Service Medal
Honorary Companion of the Military Division of the Most Honorable Order of the Bath

He was also rated as a Command Pilot.

Death and Burial

Emmett O'Donnell, Jr. died on 1 January 1972. He is buried at the United States Air Force Academy Cemetery in Colorado Springs, CO.

Honoree ID: 805   Created by: MHOH




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