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Oliver Edward O’Mara

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Lt. Col. Oliver Edward O'Mara
The distinguished Air Force pilot Lt. Col. Oliver Edward O'Mara, who served in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam, died in his sleep July 1, 2008, in Santa Fe. He was 86.
The cause was heart failure, his family said.
Colonel O'Mara was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., attended Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass., and graduated as a flight officer fighter pilot of the Army Air Corps in November 1943.
Colonel O'Mara flew P-51 Mustangs, Curtiss P-40 Tomahawks and P-47 Thunderbolts on Saipan and Iwo Jima. While flying a P-51 off Iwo Jima, he took a hit from heavy ground fire on the island and had to bail out over the Pacific Ocean, more than 10 miles from the island. After three days in an inflatable raft, he was rescued by the USS Steelhead.
In February and March of 1945, Colonel O'Mara and his squadron, the Sun Setters, flew air support for the Marines during the Battle of Iwo Jima. During his World War II career, Colonel O'Mara flew 32 missions and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters, the Purple Heart and two battle stars, one for Air Offensive Japan and the other for the Battle of Iwo Jima.
In March 1953, Colonel O'Mara was recalled to Ellington Air Force Base, Texas, where he attended the Air Force Helicopter School. Shortly after graduating, Colonel O'Mara served as a rescue pilot over Korea, flying the Sikorsky H-19 helicopter to pick up wounded U.S. ground troops, downed pilots at sea and transport weapons and supplies. In 1955, Colonel O'Mara was awarded the Sikorsky Flying "S" for his life saving missions in Korea.
After Korea, Colonel O'Mara flew helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft at bases in Texas, Nevada, California, Florida and Japan. In 1965, he volunteered for duty in Vietnam and, following helicopter combat crew training in an HH-3E Jolly Green Giant, Colonel O'Mara went to the Republic of Vietnam in July 1966.
From July 1966 to May 1967, Colonel O'Mara rescued eight pilots on seven separate missions. He flew a total of 128 missions, 16 of them over North Vietnam. On April 2, 1969, Colonel O'Mara was awarded the Air Force Cross, second only to the Congressional Medal of Honor. His citation reads:
"On Oct. 5, 1966, while flying an HH-3E helicopter as rescue commander, Lt. Col. Oliver E. O'Mara voluntarily flew into a known area of intense hostile activity in an effort to rescue a downed American pilot. While under intense small arms and heavy automatic weapons fire, during which his rescue aircraft received numerous hits, he made repeated attempts to reach the downed airman. Only after his aircraft received extensive damage, which rendered it incapable of rescue operations, did he withdraw from the area.
"However, he then directed another helicopter to the site for a successful pick-up. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship and aggressiveness in the face of opposing force, Colonel O'Mara reflected the highest credit upon himself and the Air Force."
At the time O'Mara received the Air Force Cross, only 23 had been awarded, 15 posthumously. His final assignment was to Holloman Air Force Base. On Sept. 1, 1970, Colonel O'Mara retired from 28 collective years in the service of his country. From 1971 to 1986 he worked for civil service as the Holloman airfield manager. He was also a member of The Legion of Valor.
Colonel O'Mara is survived by his wife of 63 years, Ruth Slater. He is also survived by his daughters Peggy, of Santa Fe, and Susan Campau, of Verdi, Nev.; six grandchildren, Lally, Finnie, Bram and Nora McMahon and Jeremy and Molly Campau; two great-grandchildren, Jacob and Jordan Lynne Campau; and by his sister, Eileen Cimmarrusti, of Palatine, Ill., and his brothers James, of Belleair Bluffs, Fla., and William, of Reno, Nev.
There will be a Mass Tuesday, July 8, 2008, at 9:30 a.m. at St. Anne Parish in Santa Fe, with interment of the urn to follow at the Santa Fe National Cemetery.
Arrangements are under the direction of Berardinelli Family Funeral Service, 1399 Luisa Street, Santa Fe, NM 87505, (505) 984-8600.
Published in Alamogordo Daily News from July 5 to July 15, 2008
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