Retired July 31, 1963. Died Jan. 1, 1972.
"Rosie" O'Donnell, leader of the first B-29 attack against Tokyo and postwar Pacific Air Forces commander, is one of the most colorful Air Force generals. Emmett O'Donnell Jr. was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1906. He graduated from Manual Training High School in 1924 and from the U.S. Military Academy four years later. Excelling in football, he played substitute halfback for All-Americans Harry Wilson and Red Cagle at West Point.
Appointed a second lieutenant of Infantry, he received flying training at Brooks and Kelly fields, Texas, earning his wings by March 1930. His initial flying assignment in the Air Corps was a six and one half year tour with the First Pursuit Group at Selfridge Field, Mich. During this time O'Donnell also served as an airmail pilot with the Army Air Corps mail operations at Cleveland, Ohio, in the spring of 1934.
O'Donnell became a captain April 20, 1935. In December 1936 Captain O'Donnell was assigned to the 18th Reconnaissance Group at Mitchel Field, N.Y., until 1940. While with this organization, he attended the Air Corps Tactical School at Maxwell Field, Ala., graduating in August 1939. He was also assistant football coach at West Point from 1934 to 1938. Transferred to Hawaii in February 1940, he was assigned as a squadron commander of the 11th Bombardment Group.
O'Donnell became a major in January 1941. As Japanese designs 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 Sept. 5. A week later all nine of the B-17s landed at Clark Field, Manila. This was the first mass flight of land planes to cross the western Pacific from Hawaii to the Philippines.
After 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. Major 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 antiaircraft fire and enemy fighters.
From January 1942 when he arrived in Java 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 became a lieutenant colonel in January 1942 and a 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 Air Field, Salina, Kan., a year later. O'Donnell became a brigadier general in February 1944. He trained the B-29 Superfort Wing for six months at Smoky Hill and then led it to Saipan. The B-29s began the campaign against the Japanese homeland on Nov. 24, 1944 when O'Donnell led 111 B-29s against industrial targets in Tokyo. Only 88 of the planes were able to bomb, and results were poor, partly because of bad weather. This was the first attack on Tokyo since the Doolittle Raid in April 1942.
After the war O'Donnell was assigned to the Air Technical Service Command (later Air Materiel 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-United States; the Canada-United States Military Cooperation Committee; the Joint Mexico-United States Defense Commission; and the Joint Brazil-United States Defense Commission.
O'Donnell became commanding general of the 15th Air Force at Colorado Springs, Colo., in October 1948, and in November 1949 moved with that headquarters to March Air Force Base, Calif. Early in 1950, as a result of United Nations action against communist forces in Korea, General O'Donnell took a nucleus of his 15th Air Force staff for the Fear 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. General Walton Walker decided to build a perimeter defense to shelter Pusan, the key port. As the Eighth 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, General 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 United States in January 1951. Two years later General O'Donnell was appointed deputy chief of personnel at Air Force headquarters in Washington and promoted to lieutenant general, remaining in this position until August 1959. That month he was appointed commander in chief, Pacific Air Forces, Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii and promoted to full general. He retired from the service July 31, 1963. Two months later, President Kennedy awarded O'Donnell the Distinguished Service Medal for long and distinguished service to his country.
His other awards include the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with three oak leaf clusters, Air Medal with oak leaf cluster, Presidential Unit Citation with oak leaf cluster, Korean Presidential Unit Citation, National Defense Service Medal, World War II Victory Medal, American Defense Ribbon with bronze star, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Ribbon with six 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.