Chopper Pilot Receives Bronze Star For Vietnam
(March 23, 2010)
|ARLINGTON, Va. (Army News Service, March 18, 2010) -- A
retired warrant officer received a Bronze Star last week for
actions he took some 40 years earlier as a helicopter pilot
Retired Army Chief Warrant Officer Phillip Daniel O'Donnell
of Stafford, Va., his wife Monica, son Antonio, other family
members, friends and Army representatives gathered in the
Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., March 12
for a ceremony that awarded him the medal.
After receiving the Bronze star March 12,
2010 for serving as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, retired Chief Warrant Officer Phillip Daniel O'Donnell discusses his service with Maj. Gen. James C. McConville, the Army's chief of Legislative Liaison, and Col. Laura J. Richardson, Senate liaison chief.
Photo by Adam Skoczylas
O'Donnell, who turns 70 in August, had been trying to obtain the medal for
several decades with little success until the office of U.S. Sen. James Webb
(Va.) intervened. Webb staffers helped find lost paperwork documenting the
warrant officer's exploits.|
O'Donnell said that through the decades he engaged service organizations like
the VFW, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Military Personnel Records in St.
Louis, Mo., and other entities in attempts to get the medal.
Representatives at Military Personnel Records would say, "Send me a copy of the
citation," he related "And I'd say, 'Well I don't have a copy of the citation,
so I can't do that."
He gave up for awhile. But last year O'Donnell was diagnosed with lung cancer, a
service-related disability attributed to his exposure to Agent Orange while in
"When I got diagnosed with cancer, I thought I'd make one more try because I'd
like my 4-year-old son to have [the medal]," he said. "I tried for 40 years and
the senator's office got it for me in two weeks."
"An award was authorized many years ago, but it was lost in the process," Webb
explained in opening remarks at the ceremony. "I want to thank the [Department
of Army] for going back to the records and Debbie Burroughs on my staff [for
resolving the issue]."
"We're a staff that feels very strongly about military service," said Webb, a
former Marine officer who received the Navy Cross and served as secretary of the
Navy. He introduced staff members at the ceremony with military backgrounds,
looked at the guest of honor and said, "Mr. O'Donnell, you're among friends
Before Webb pinned the medal on O'Donnell, Col. Laura Richardson of the Army
Senate Liaison Office read the citation, signed by Secretary of the Army John M.
McHugh, awarding O'Donnell the medal. O'Donnell was cited for his performance as
a helicopter pilot flying gun support in Vietnam from 1970 to 1971.
O'Donnell's "rapid assessment and solution of numerous problems inherent in a
combat environment greatly enhanced the allied effectiveness against a
determined and aggressive enemy," the citation read. "Despite many adversities,
he invariably performed his duties in a resolute and efficient manner.
Energetically applying his sound judgment and extensive knowledge, he has
contributed materially to the successful accomplishment of the United States
mission in the Republic of Vietnam. His loyalty, diligence, and devotion to duty
were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect
great credit upon himself and the United States Army."
"It's a very emotional day," said O'Donnell after receiving the medal. "I have
lung cancer so that makes it even more special. I don't have many days left."
O'Donnell, who was promoted to lieutenant colonel but reverted to Chief Warrant
Officer upon his retirement, downplayed the actions for which he received the
"You just get up and go do it," he said. "There's no question about it. There
are other guys out there who did the same thing I did."
O'Donnell spent 10 years in the Marines before entering the Army's warrant
officer program in 1969. He said he did so largely for the opportunity to become
a helicopter pilot.
Before enlisting in the Marines, O'Donnell spent ages 8 through 17 as a circus
and Vaudeville performer. He comes from a family of acrobats and jugglers. "I
was raised by Ringling Brothers," he joked.
In fact, O'Donnell has been nominated for induction into the International
Jugglers Association Hall of Fame. "It's still pending," he said.
Because of this background, O'Donnell said he was in top physical condition with
good hand-eye coordination when he entered the service. "I didn't have the
ability to take orders though," he admits. "I had to adapt to that."
After retirement from active duty, O'Donnell was a building maintenance
specialist with the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
Hel expressed his support for troops currently deployed overseas.
"They're doing a hell of a job and I'm proud of them. I wish there was some way
I could be there also."
Article by Michael Norris
Assistant Editor of the Pentagram at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall
Army News Service
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Bronze Star Recipients |