Decorated Korean War Marine Veteran Laid to Rest

By Kevin M. Hymel, Historian on 10/17/2022

Betty O’Donnell insisted on standing to receive the flag that had been folded over her husband’s urn. Her husband, Major Brendan P. O’Donnell, served in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean War. At Major O’Donnell’s funeral service at Arlington National Cemetery on October 14, 2022, one of Mrs. O’Donnell’s relatives helped her to her feet, and she proudly accepted the flag. 

Major O’Donnell entered the Marine Corps in October 1950, and soon found himself fighting in the Korean War as a second lieutenant. By early April 1951, O’Donnell had become a platoon leader in Company D, 2nd Battalion of the 7th Marine Regiment, supporting the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division. His platoon was fighting to the Kansas Line, along the 38th parallel — the dividing line between North and South Korea. 

On April 10, 1951, O’Donnell’s platoon spearheaded a company-sized attack on an enemy ridgeline, killing 27, wounding 35 and capturing seven. As enemy fire rained in from the adjacent hills, he constantly exposed himself while setting up a defensive position. Mortars then pounded O’Donnell’s position, wounding some of his men and destroying his radio. Despite the hit, O’Donnell fearlessly led his platoon against an enemy ridge, exposing himself again to heavy automatic fire. Yet he led his men to route the enemy and relieve pressure on troops pinned down by enemy fire. His actions that day earned him the Silver Star. 

O’Donnell remained in the Marine Corps for another year, before retiring as a major in the USMC Reserve. He later earned an MBA from Harvard University and worked as an executive for several corporations. In September 1959, he married his girlfriend, Betty Rhodes. 

O’Donnell’s funeral service commenced with a flyover by two U.S. Marine Corps V-22 Ospreys, their propellers beating against a clear blue sky. Their presence was a testament to the major’s service.
“We are celebrating a life well lived,” Navy Chaplain (Lt. Cmdr.) Bob Price told O’Donnell’s friends and family. “This was a man of courage. This was a man of action.” He stressed that O’Donnell’s legacy would impact generations to come. Then, Chaplain Price turned to O’Donnell’s urn and declared: “Semper fidelis, sir, you stand relieved. We have the watch.” 

With that, the Marine rifle party fired three salvos. A bugler played Taps, and the honor guard folded the flag atop the urn. They handed it to a Marine major who then presented it to a Mrs. O’Donnell. Chaplain Price assured her, “We are going to watch over him with care and compassion.”  


View more photos from Maj O'Donnell's funeral:

Military Funeral Honors with Funeral Escort are Conducted for U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Brendan O’Donnell in Section 83

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Kevin M. Hymel