|He’s quick to point out that he first began to build his combat skills while developing tactics for and competing on the FDU fencing team. |
Although O’Neill doesn’t know it, this arrest on Harbor Boulevard in Garden Grove, Calif. — less than a mile from the peaceful, family-oriented world of Disneyland — will earn him the Federal Bar Association Medal of Valor. But the lawman is just happy to put the incident — and many others like it — behind him.
After surviving an action-packed FBI career that lasted nearly 30 years, O’Neill says he’s greatly enjoying his new life as a man of leisure. “I’m retired now, and that’s with a capital R!” the 65-year-old former FDU English major chortles happily. “These days, I spend a lot of time walking in the woods with my three dogs, while meditating on some of my more colorful assignments of the past — and thinking about improving my rather humble golf game.”
O’Neill recently moved to Pinehurst, N.C., with his wife, the former Patricia Gerrard, BS’63 (R) — a former FDU cheerleader and an award-winning kindergarten teacher whom he’d met at Fairleigh Dickinson in 1959. Thirty years later, in 1989, O’Neill “rediscovered and fell in love with her,” and the couple married.
The years between their meeting and the marriage were quite eventful for O’Neill. While serving two tours of duty as a Marine Corps captain assigned as a forward air controller (FAC) in direct support of infantry units in Vietnam, he coordinated numerous close air-support missions with attack aircraft. And, he’s quick to point out that he first began to build his combat skills while developing tactics for and competing on the FDU fencing team.
“I tried out for the soccer team as a freshman, and it was soon obvious that I would not make the All-American squad,” he recalls. “So I asked myself if there might be some other sport where I might have a better chance to succeed, and I decided to give saber fencing a try.
“I learned a great deal about the importance of being able to outthink and outmaneuver your opponent, and I won my share of bouts — although you won’t be reading about my career in any fencing journals!”
A few years after joining the FBI in June of 1969, O’Neill discovered that he could tap this talent — as a specially trained “critical-incident negotiator” with an uncanny ability to go one-on-one with dangerous fugitives and somehow coax them into surrendering without resorting to violence. During the next two decades, he faced dozens of situations in which he had to “talk down” armed bank robbers who’d taken hostages, or escaped felons who had vowed to die before allowing themselves to be recaptured — or even a group of armed religious zealots who were threatening mass suicide.