John C. O'Neal, a retired boilermaker who served with the Army in Hiroshima, Japan, after the atomic bomb was dropped, died of cancer Thursday in his home. He was 78.
Mr. O'Neal won several medals and honors for his efforts during World War II. His son, Dan, said his father was in Hiroshima after the bombing to aid clean-up efforts.
"He told me it was like walking out in the middle of the desert and there was nothing," he said. "Everything was unrecognizable."
Mr. O'Neal was raised in Blue Moon, Ky. He had to quit school in sixth grade to support his family after his father lost his eyesight blasting in a coal mine. Mr. O'Neal went to work at the same the mine, moving the coal once it was mined.
"He did it because he had to," said his son, John.
When Mr. O'Neal was 16, he lied about his age so he could join the Army and fight in World War II. He was first stationed in the Philippines, but was transferred to Japan when the war ended.
When he returned to the states, he found a lack of job opportunities in Kentucky and chose to move to Toledo, where he worked for the C&O Railroad in Walbridge. He was introduced to his wife, the then-Louise Dutcher, by a mutual friend and they married on June 21, 1947. In a span of 11 years, they had nine children.
"He worked a lot to support us," said his son, John. But he also was present as a father.
"He took us to the park, and we had picnics. He tried to keep us together as a family."
When work was hard to find, he went to school at night and learned to fix televisions, which provided supplemental income for his large family.
Mr. O'Neal, a member of Local 85 Boilermakers, worked at the former Sohio refinery until his retirement in 1988.
In his spare time, Mr. O'Neal cultivated large vegetable gardens that produced enough to feed his family.
Ten years ago, although part of his esophagus had been removed because of cancer, he continued to plant an annual garden.
His son Dan said that even after all the children were grown, his father grew enough to feed a family of nine children.
Surviving are his wife, Louise; daughters Marry Larcom, Suzan McLannen, Nancy O'Neal, Lillian Hilditch, Norma Baker, and Virginia Tharpe; sons, John, Dan, and James; brother, Clinton Wheeler; sisters, Nan Rollins and Nancy O'Neal; 29 grandchildren, and 38 great-grandchildren.
Services will be at 1 p.m. Monday in the Hoeflinger Funeral Home, where visitation begins at 6 tonight.
The family suggests tributes to the Hospice of Northwest Ohio.