William Owen “Buckey” O’Neill – American Hero

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The Pink Flamingo was working on the new book last night when I came across conflicting information.  William Owen “Buckey” O’Neill may have been nominated for a Medal of Honor by Teddy Roosevelt.  Then again, it may never have happened.  I am leaning on the side that it never happened, but I can’t be sure.

I have an unpublished photo of O’Neill, taken about 6 months before he gave his life for his country, that will be the cover of my new book.

Just how much of a hero was O’Neill?

Buckey O’Neill may have witnessed the Gunfight at the OK Corral.  He is the Epitaph reporter who wrote the now iconic article about the shoot-out.

Captain_Buckey_O'Neill

He was a good Republican.

He moved to Prescott, where he married, lost a child, and was elected for various county positions on the GOP ticket.

In 1998 Bucky O’Neill and two others founded the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry.  They soon became known as the Rough Riders.

On June 25, 1898 the Rough Riders landed at Daiquiri.  He led his men on the front line at the Battle of Las Guasimas.  A few days later, on July 1, the Rough Riders and the Buffalo Soldiers of the 10 Cav were stationed below Kettle Hill.  Captain O’Neill died in action.

He was eventually buried in Arlington with a hero’s honors.

Teddy Roosevelt would eventually write:

“”The most serious loss that I and the regiment could have suffered befell just before we charged. O’Neill was strolling up and down in front of his men, smoking his cigarette, for he was inveterately addicted to the habit. He had a theory that an officer ought never to take cover – a theory which was, of course, wrong, though in a volunteer organization the officers should certainly expose themselves very fully, simply for the effect on the men; our regimental toast on the transport running, ‘The officers; may the war last until each is killed, wounded, or promoted.’ As O’Neill moved to and fro, his men begged him to lie down, and one of the sergeants said, ‘Captain, a bullet is sure to hit you.’ O’Neill took his cigarette out of his mouth, and blowing out a cloud of smoke laughed and said, ‘Sergeant, the Spanish bullet isn’t made that will kill me.’ A little later he discussed for a moment with one of the regular officers the direction from which the Spanish fire was coming. As he turned on his heel a bullet struck him in the mouth and came out at the back of his head; so that even before he fell his wild and gallant soul had gone out into the darkness.”

O’Neill’s biographer wrote:

“…Within minutes the Rough Riders had to put their grieving for Capt. O’Neill behind them as they stormed up Kettle Hill. But they didn’t forget him, as many of them called out, “One for Buckey O’Neill,” as they fired on the Spanish while taking the hill. The turning of grief into hatred probably helped them win that fight, as it had millions of soldiers in similar situations throughout history. Buckey O’Neill helped his men through one last fight, even in death….”

More about that day:

“…New orders arrived a couple of days later on July 1st for the Rough Riders to deploy along the bottom of the San Juan Heights to help in a campaign to displace the Spanish stronghold on top of the hills. The Spanish defensive line was about a mile long and was armed with many gun emplacements. Taking their assigned positions below the heights, the U.S. troopers waited for the signal for advance on the Spanish. The Rough Riders were to deploy below Kettle Hill while the rest of the First Infantry Division was to make the main offensive on San Juan Hill. At seven in the morning, American long-range guns opened the battle. The troopers soon found themselves under a steady stream of Spanish bullets, and for about an hour they had to endure the firing under their exposed positions. After an hour of the firing a tragic blow was dealt to the Rough Riders. Captain “Bucky” O’Neill was killed while trying to calm and steady his troops. The entire regiment keenly felt his sudden death, and if it was not for the quick thinking of commanders surrounding O’Neill’s men, their attack might have not gone forward.

Around noon, the First Infantry Division began their assault on San Juan Hill with the support of General Joseph Wheeler’s Cavalry. Seeing the attack on adjacent San Juan Hill starting, Roosevelt still in position in reserve below Kettle Hill became more and more impatient. Finally he was given the command to start the Rough Riders’ assault up Kettle Hill. Roosevelt, feeling very excited, began to ride up and down the line urging the men forward. Seeing Roosevelt personally urging them forward, momentum quickly spread and finally the entire regiment was on the move forward, passing the forward lines of other American units. As the Rough Riders arrived at the forward positions of the First and Ninth Cavalry (who had not received their own orders to advance), Roosevelt took the initiative and quickly invited them to join in the advance up the hill. With no orders from their superiors, the two groups initially declined the offer until the sight of the grinning Rough Riders rushing passed became too much, and they too joined the fight against the Kettle Hill defenders….”

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