Robert O’Neill, ‘Man Who Killed Bin Laden,’ Fills Library Audience

Emotional Day Previews 9/11 Anniversary
Sep 12, 2018
Courtesy of: Ocean County The Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders presented a Freeholder Proclamation to Robert O’Neill, former SEAL Team Six Leader, one of the nation’s most decorated veterans and bestselling author, during his presentation at the Toms River Branch of the Ocean County Library on Sept. 8. The Freeholders commended O’Neill for his service to the Country and welcomed him to Ocean County. Pictured from left to right are Ocean County Freeholder Director Gerry P.Little, Freeholder Virginia E. Haines, Author and SEAL Team Six Leader Robert O’Neill and Freeholder Joseph H. Vicari.

The Ocean County Library System has been hosting popular authors’ talks for decades, but it’s a safe bet to say last Saturday’s appearance of Robert O’Neill at the Toms River main branch was among the most popular.

O’Neill is known as the man who killed Osama Bin Laden. Considering the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on this country was just days away, it wasn’t surprising O’Neill would draw a crowd – and it was quite the crowd indeed.

Ocean County Freeholder Director Gerry P. Little afterward said 250 seats had been set up for O’Neill’s talk. All of them, he said, were full. Add in the standing-room-only folks and he estimated the crowd had been 300 strong.

Another sign of the talk’s popularity was that O’Neill – who shook hands and chatted with people before and after his formal hour-long presentation and signed copies of his book The Operator – ran out of books. When he did, he signed programs instead, and his people took down names and addresses of those left out, promising to send them book copies immediately. The Operator describes not only the famous raid in Pakistan that killed Bin Laden, but also O’Neill’s life as a Navy SEAL, from his days in the rigorous training process through some 400 missions.

O’Neill is one of the most decorated military veterans in history, having earned two Silver Stars, four Bronze Stars with Valor, a Joint Service Commendation Medal with Valor, three Presidential Unit citations and two Navy/Marine Corps Commendation Medals with Valor, among 52 total honors. As a SEAL, he was reportedly involved in some 400 missions.

Still, he is best known for being the man who killed the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. O’Neill made his claim on Oct. 5, 2014, before a Fox News special called “The Man Who Killed Osama Bin Laden” hit the air, expected to reveal his identity along with details of the May 2, 2011 mission Operation Neptune Spear. (The top-secret op was named after Neptune’s trident, depicted on the U.S. Navy’s Special Warfare insignia representing the capacity of SEALS on sea, air and land.)

Little said O’Neill’s library talk was not centered on Bin Laden’s killing – in which O’Neill reportedly shot the terrorist leader twice in the head and once in the body – but on O’Neill’s SEAL career as a whole, his training, his many missions and the esprit de corps found not only in the SEAL fraternity, but also in the military at large.

O’Neill, 42, certainly was involved in some of the most famous missions in recent U.S. military history. A member of the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Development Group, commonly known as SEAL Team Six, starting in 2004 he was part of the team that saved Capt. Richard Phillips from Somali pirates in an episode made famous by the 2013 movie “Captain Phillips,” starring Tom Hanks. O’Neill was also part of the rescue efforts at the end of Operation Red Wings, a joint Marine, Navy SEAL and U.S. Army Special Operations Command mission in Afghanistan that saw three SEALS killed in the initial phase of the operation, leaving just one SEAL, Marcus Luttrell, alive but severely wounded. Luttrell’s experience was captured in a bestseller, Lone Survivor, which was later made into a film starring Mark Wahlberg. Finally, O’Neill was involved in the search for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was held captive for almost five years by the Taliban after deserting his post in Afghanistan in 2009. Bergdahl was finally exchanged for five Taliban members being held at Guantanamo Bay, an exchange that was extremely controversial. Bergdahl eventually pleaded guilty to desertion, receiving a dishonorable discharge but no prison time, another source of controversy.

O’Neill, then a senior chief (E8), left the military in 2012 after 16 years of service, four years before he would have been eligible for retirement benefits, saying that choice was best for his family.

O’Neill, said Little, is now a motivational speaker. On Saturday, he didn’t brag about his exploits, but rather centered his talk about the importance of training, preparation and teamwork, fitting his theme of “never quit.”

The library talk/book signing turned into a patriotic event. Five Gold Star couples who lost children in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan led the Pledge of Allegiance. Numerous dignitaries were in attendance, including Congressman Tom MacArthur (3rd District); Little, the Ocean County freeholder director, who presented O’Neill with a freeholders proclamation thanking him for his service; Freeholders Virginia E. Haines and Joseph H. Vicari; John P. Dorrity, director of the Ocean County Veterans Service Bureau; and Ocean County Library Commissioner Henry J. Mancini.

There were moments of levity. Mancini, for example, recalled that it was his late father, longtime freeholder and mayor of Long Beach Township Jim Mancini, who was the freeholder primarily responsible for building the Ocean County Library System into the largest in New Jersey – and always called it “the libary.” But the mood, with Sept. 11 approaching, was mostly somber.

The thing that Little, an ex-Marine, most came away with, he said, was one story O’Neill told. As he was ready to shoot Bin Laden, the SEAL said, one thought flashed through his mind. He remembered watching TV and seeing a woman, trapped by flames in the World Trade Center, escape by leaping to her death. Even though she was about to die, she showed her decency by holding down her skirt so that her underwear wouldn’t be exposed as she fell before a crowd of spectators.

That’s a 9/11 memory if ever there was one.

— Rick Mellerup

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