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Dermot M.

ONeill 1

Dermot M. ONeill and The ONeill System of Hand to Hand Combat

Steven C. Brown

July 3rd, 2010

Dermot M. ONeill 2 Introduction Who was Dermot M. Pat ONeill? This article is not meant to be a complete life story, but merely a brief look at one of close combats little known pioneers. Unlike many of his contemporaries, like William E. Fairbairn (Get Tough), or Rex Applegate, (Kill or Get Killed), ONeill was a more elusive subject. If you ask, any current judo player Who was Pat ONeill? or Have you ever heard of Dermot M. Pat ONeill?, youll probably be greeted with a blank stare. Considering the fact that ONeill, per Richard Bowen, was a Godan or fifth degree black belt in Kodokan Judo in 1947, when it was unheard of for a non Japanese to hold such rank, I found this response to be somewhat disheartening. This same response is usually that of some current, so called, hand to hand combat experts. If however, you ask some old school judoka or a veteran of the World War II unit, The First Special Service Force, youll probably get an entirely different answer.

Ireland 1905-1925 Dermot Michael ONeill was born in Newmarket, County Cork, Ireland in 1905. He was the sixth of nine children, with four brothers and four sisters Dermots father, Francis ONeill, was a district inspector of the Royal Irish Constabulary, one of the most respected police forces of the British Empire. Sometime shortly after his fathers death in 1919, Dermot, then a teenager, signed on as a cabin boy on a tramp steamer bound for Asia.

Dermot M. ONeill 3 He would see Ireland again only two times in his lifetime, once in 1959 and again in the late 1970s. (ONeill, 2002). Working aboard the ship, he saw much of the orient during this time. After a couple of years, he jumped ship in Shanghai, China, where his older brother Frank had journeyed a couple of years earlier and had taken a position as a bank teller.

Shanghai 1925 - 1938 As a 20 year old man he read an ad in the local newspaper for young men to join the Shanghai Municipal Police. It is not known if this was the only job he could get, or if it was because of his fathers link with the police, or just that he was a young man in search of adventure. But in 1925, after an interview, and a health check, Dermot took six weeks training as one of the newest recruits for the SMP. Besides being one of the most exciting cities in the world, Shanghai in 1925, was one of the worlds greatest seaports and the commercial metropolis of China. (Encyclopedia Britanica, 1929:458) As a city, Shanghai was divided into six major areas, The Old City, dated from the eleventh century, The International Settlement, which was mostly under British control, The French Concession, Chapei, a northern outer suburb, Pootung, an eastern suburb, and Nantou, a southern suburb. (Encyclopedia Britanica, 1929:458) The city was a place where fortunes were made and lost, on an almost daily basis. On the citys streets walked over 1.5 million people, including Chinese, Japanese, Russians, British, American, and many other nationalities.

Dermot M. ONeill 4 Compared by some to 1920s New York City or Chicago, as far as exciting places, Shanghai also contained a criminal element of gangsters, drug lords, embezzlers, and other unsavory types of criminals which would require a rigorous law enforcer, the Shanghai Municipal Police. This force was tasked with maintaining law and order in one of the roughest seaports in the world. Its ranks consisted of over 5,000 men, organized in four branches. The Chinese Branch, of 3,000 constables, the Sikh Branch, which was used for traffic and crowd control, consisted of over 500. The Japanese Branch worked in the Japanese community, with 267, and the Foreign Branch, which consisted of British, Russian, and other nationalities, including some Americans. (Thompson, 1982:64) The SMP had the job of enforcing the law and protecting British and other government interests throughout Shanghai, spreading the task among the fourteen police stations in the International Settlement. The late 1920s and early 1930s streets of Shanghai were a proving ground for pioneering techniques in policecraft, combat shooting, and hand- tohand combat. Under the leadership of Asst. Commissioner William E. Fairbairn, the SMP would develop the usage of ballistics, body armor, dogs, realistic training scenarios, and what some historians consider to be the first special weapons and tactics (SWAT) team, called the Shanghai Municipal Police Reserve Unit. (Thompson, 1982:96) ONeills first six weeks of police training consisted of police rules and regulations, math, local laws, jiu jitsu and use of the .45 Cal. Pistol. (Sergeant,

Dermot M. ONeill 5 1990:148) He would also receive weekly foreign language instruction, proficiency in Chinese was a required point to remain a member of the SMP . Additional language training was offered to SMP recruits, including: German, French, Japanese, Russian, and Hindustani. Proficiency would bring an additional $16.95 per language, this would supplement a salary of SH$300 per month. (Sergeant, 1990:149) On ONeills first day as a member of the Shanghai Municipal Police, he would be involved in a shootout with Chinese gangs that ran through the streets of Shanghai. As he exchanged fire with the gang members, he would recount later, he thought, What have I gotten myself into?. (Ashton, 2001) During his 14 years with the Shanghai Police, ONeill would rise to the rank of Sub-Inspector, become a member of the Special Branch, which was the intelligence gathering arm of the SMP, and also a member of the Shanghai Municipal Police Reserve Unit, which was led by William E. Fairbairn. It was also during this time that ONeill would learn combat shooting from Fairbairns partner and friend, Eric A. Sykes, who led the Sniper Unit of the Riot Squad. (Ashton, 2001) Although he is considered by many to have been Fairbairns protege,(Smith,1999:145) ONeill had very strong opinions of his mentor, he told an interviewer later that he felt Fairbairn wrongfully appropriated a lot of Sykes work on combat shooting as his own and took the credit for the design of the world famous Fairbairn-Sykes Commando Knife. (Ashton, 2001)

Dermot M. ONeill 6 Being a policeman in Shanghai also provided daily practice in hand-tohand combat, which ONeill discovered early on he had a talent for. ONeill started studying Judo in 1929 under Patrolman Shigeichi Yamada of the Japanese Consulate-General in Shanghai and was often selected as a member of the SMP judo team which regularly competed in Japan. ONeill was awarded his third dan in 1934 after a competition in Tokyo, the only foreign non-resident of Japan to hold a third degree ranking at the time. (North-China Herald 1935:265) Judo and Jiu Jitsu were the staple martial arts of members of the SMP. Fairbairn himself was a second dan in Judo. (Pittman, 1997:46) While in Shanghai, ONeill would study Judo, Jiu Jitsu, and the different forms of Chinese Boxing available, including Chinese foot fighting. These became which would become the basis of what would become known years later as The ONeill System of Close Combat.

Japan 1938 - 1941 In 1938, after fourteen years as a member of the SMP, ONeill would leave the force to take a position in Tokyo as Security Chief at the British Embassy. His associates, Fairbairn and Sykes would leave the SMP shortly afterwards and head back to Britain, where their services would be used in training Home Guard and newly formed Commando units.

Dermot M. ONeill 7 Also in 1938, ONeill would receive his fourth dan in judo from the Kodokan, giving him the honor of being one of the highest ranking non-Japanese judoka anywhere in the world. As news of an impending attack on the United States reached ONeill, he made the decision to leave Japan before the attack on Pearl Harbor. He smuggled himself aboard a fishing boat bound for the Philippines on October 5 , 1941, there he jumped another ship and was made an auxiliary sailor and took part in the evacuation of women and children from numerous places in the former Dutch East Indies and New Guinea. (Aldeman 1963:1) Later, he made way for Australia, where he would venture to Sydney and stay with his older brother, Frank and his sister in law. In early 1942, as the United States had now entered World War II, ONeill remained in Australia, until receiving a telegram from his mentor, William Fairbairn, who was now working in Canada and the US, developing close combat training programs at Camp X in Canada, and, with a young Lt. Rex Applegate similar programs at Ft Richie in Maryland, for the Office Of Strategic Services.
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United States 1942 ONeill came to the US in early May 1942. At this same time, Lt. Col. Robert Frederick was forming a multinational force to parachute into Nazi-held Norway, Romania, and Northern Italy. Frederick would receive orders from the War Department and the support of General Marshall to form and train a

Dermot M. ONeill 8 combined force of Canadians and Americans, 1800 in all, which would become the First Special Service Force. The First Special Service Force, headed by Frederick, set up training in Helena, Montana. If the Force was to complete training in the planned time of seven months, all members would have to become proficient parachutists, skiers, weapon handlers, and demolitions experts. They would receive hand to hand combat training from a variety of instructors, including a professional wrestler and another instructor who taught them how to throw their new knife, the V42 stiletto.

The First Special Service Force 1942-1944 ONeill had grown bored as an instructor for the O.S.S. and volunteered as a civilian instructor for the First Special Service Force in August of 1942. This move was approved for a temporary assignment of two months to the FSSF by the higher ups at the O.S.S. He would receive $12.50 a day for about three hours work. (ONeill, 2002) There were no gymnasiums or formal training facilities at Ft. William Henry Harrison, so ONeill made the decision to train the troops outside, on open ground. Although ONeill had a strong background in Judo, he knew that Judo required several years of hard training to acquire the necessary skill to throw a man who was resisting and fighting back. He elected to teach a basically simple system, based on what he called Chinese Foot Fighting. (USMC 1966:1)

Dermot M. ONeill 9 Starting training with groups of officers, ONeill would begin with a brief lecture, then a demonstration, then allow the officers to practice techniques on one another, while keeping a watchful eye. Officers and enlisted men would be trained separately. (Moore 2002) The First Special Service Force would receive thirty to forty hours of training at the hands of ONeill. Striking and kicking, disarming techniques, and sentry elimination were the topics of the day. ONeill also included instruction in the quick draw use of the .45 automatic pistol and the hip shooting methods he had learned in Shanghai. (Story 2001) Although ONeill is remembered by friends in the force to have been fun to be around with a good sense of humor, ONeill was no nonsense when it came to teaching the force the unpleasantries of unarmed combat. Im not here to teach you to hurt, hed say, Im here to teach you to kill. (Springer, 2002) His unarmed system stressed kicks to the groin and lower body movements, along with finger tip jabs to the eyes and throat. His instruction in the disarming of knives and bayonets started with sheathed weapons first, then progressing to live blades. One officer recounted to me that he was nervous at first with the knife and bayonet disarms, but by the time you were working with real blades, you had the confidence in the techniques. (Moore 2002) ONeills system of hand-to-hand combat would be proven in the bars of Helena, Montana, and later, in the battlefields of Italy and France against the Germans, and any French or Italian locals who thought that the Americans were easy marks.

Dermot M. ONeill 10 While in Helena, ONeill would meet, and after a brief courtship, marry a local schoolteacher named Mary Frances Hardin at the Helena Cathedral on March 12, 1943. (Mero, 2002) In 1943, after several months of training, the FSSF would board a train headed for the U.S. Navys Amphibious Training base near Norfolk, Virginia, where they would set records for disembarking from ships into landing craft with full combat gear. As ONeill was a citizen of a neutral country, and not a member of the FSSF, he had to actually sneak onto the base, wearing fatigues, and mix with the regular troops. His stay was brief however, as he was escorted off the base by Naval Intelligence about a week later after being discovered. After amphibious training was completed, the next stop for the force was Ft. Ethan Allen, in Burlington, Vermont. (Aldeman, 1963:2) The Office of Strategic Services was now requesting for ONeill to be released and report back to Maryland. ONeill was enjoying the camaraderie he had with the force and Frederick, had no intention of releasing the Irishman back to the O.S.S. (Aldeman and Walton, 1966:78) Through Fredericks channels and contacts, ONeill received a field commission to the rank of captain in the United States Army on June 19, 1943, a remarkable feat considering that ONeill was neither a U.S. citizen or in the U.S. Army at all. For an interview later, ONeill would joke that he was Shanghaied by the F.S.S.F. from the O.S.S. (Aldeman, 1963:2) In August of 1943, the force would see action in the Aleutian Islands. ONeill was originally chosen to stay behind in a support role, not accompanying

Dermot M. ONeill 11 the force into battle. After speaking with Frederick and General Adams, ONeill would now be part of Fredericks personal group in the field. This arrangement would stay in effect throughout the forces campaign in Southern Italy. ONeills desire to accompany the men he had helped train into battle would nearly prove fatal, as the Irishman and another officer were swept out to sea by the strong currents around Kiska, where they had to be picked out of the sea with cargo nets, wet and paralyzed, after about a day. Despite this incident, the forces first mission was considered a success, and they would next to report for action to the Mediterranean. In December, the force achieved a feat that would be one of the defining moments in its history. Led by the Second Regiment, the force scaled Monte La Difensa, a seemingly impenetrable mountain which had protected German artillery and had stalled the Fifth Army from advancing towards Rome. The force
th captured in a few short hours, what had been denied to three separate 5 Army

Divisions, and numerous other British and American regiments for weeks. (First Special Service Force Association, 1993:2) ONeill was there as a member of Colonel Fredericks team acting as both an intelligence officer and a bodyguard for Frederick. Through early 1944, the force continued to fight and advance through German troops and mountain peeks in Italy, until being called on to assist Darbys Rangers in defending the Anzio beachhead and 13 kilometers of the Mussolini Canal. Though under strength, the force managed to maintain its position for over three months by conducting night raids behind the German

Dermot M. ONeill 12 lines, demoralizing the Germans by taking prisoners, and leaving leaflets and stickers on the bodies of unfortunate German sentries saying in German, The Worst is Yet to Come. ONeill would occasionally accompany the raiding parties, assisting in gathering intelligence information. When he didnt participate, the raiding parties would cut off the German patches and search the bodies for important information that would be given to ONeill, who would pass it on to Military Intelligence Group of the Fifth Army. (Springer, 2002) On March 16, 1944, ONeill, along with several members of the First Special Service Force, became a United States citizen, after being sworn in, in a farmhouse in Southern Italy. (Aldeman, 1963:6) Something he was especially proud of, even into his later years. By June 1944, the Force would lead the way into Rome and in August,
th would be helping the 7 Army advance into Southern France. While there,

ONeill would become Provost Marshal of Monte Carlo, with orders from Frederick to keep U.S. servicemen out of casinos and out of trouble. ONeill set up his headquarters in the Metropole Hotel, being dubbed mayor of Monte Carlo by his friends. (Aldeman, 1963:8) On December 5, 1944, the First Special Service Force would be deactivated, as the Canadians would be recalled to reinforce Canadian units elsewhere in Europe. The remaining Americans would be split as replacements in the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions and the 474th Infantry Regiments. Despite the Forces short history, it would set the records that all of the modern militarys Special Warfare units would be compared against.

Dermot M. ONeill 13 Back to the Far East 1945-1946 After the force was deactivated in France, because of his background in the Far East, General Frederick arranged for ONeill to return to the United States early in 1945, assigned to the Provost Marshals Section of the 10 Army, where he received orders that he would be going to Okinawa, as a member of the Far East Command. ONeill would remain in Okinawa as a liaison officer for several months until the Japanese surrendered in September of 1945, ONeill then being assigned to SCAP Headquarters as a member of General MacArthurs staff. ONeill remained in Japan, now coming full circle, one of last out and one of the first back to Japan, until he was discharged in February 1946, with the rank of Major, with several combat decorations including the Bronze Star. (National Personnel Records Center, 2002) At the end of World War II, several wartime marriages, for various reasons ended up in divorce. Sadly, such was the case with Dermot and Mary ONeill. After just a few months of being back in the states, ONeill and his wife separated, with ONeill returning to Japan.
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Japan 1946-1961 ONeill returned to Japan to work as a police investigator of the Public Safety Division of SCAP Headquarters. In a few short months of being back in Japan, he was promoted to Fifth Degree Black Belt in Judo. In 1947, he would

Dermot M. ONeill 14 help organize a group of martial arts instructors to standardize the training of Japans Police forces in combatives and arresting techniques. (Cestari, 2002) Although ONeill continued his judo training, he also studied other martial arts as well, developing a particular liking for Aikido and its circular movements, which he likened somewhat to Judo. Also in Aikido, ONeill was drawn to the study of Ki and the fascinating things that some of the Aikido notables could demonstrate using Ki. Throughout the 1950s, ONeill worked in Japan for the State Department, who were busily keeping a watchful eye on the Communists in the Far East. ONeill even traveled to Viet Nam in the late 50s, he told an interviewer. (Ashton, 2001)

United States 1961-1985 In 1961, after returning to the United States, ONeill took a position as a combatives trainer at Hurlbert Field in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida. His job now was to teach pilots at the Air Commando School the basic hand-to-hand combat skills required if they were shot down behind enemy lines. His system he had now modified from the 35-40 hours he had taught the First Special Service Force, to between 8 and 12 hours of training, which emphasized kicks to the lower body and pokes to the throat and eyes. These techniques would find their way into the U.S. Armys Basic Training curriculum in the early 60s, eventually being outlined in U.S. Army Field Manual 21-150, Combatives, December 1971.

Dermot M. ONeill 15 After ONeill completed his stay at Hurlbert Field, he took an instructors position at the International Police Academy in Washington DC, again teaching combatives in the mid 1960s. It was here that he came to the attention of Major George Otott, of the United States Marine Corps Physical Fitness Acadamy at Quantico, Virginia, who had been to The International Police Academy to deliver a presentation on the physical training that was given at the Academy. Ottot approached ONeill about coming to Quantico to set up a new hand-to-hand combat program for instructors. Until that time, the Marine Corps combat training that was taught at the Basic School for Officers was primarily based on Judo, which ONeill said was fine unless your opponent wasnt wearing a gi or judo uniform. ONeill became the Head of Development and Instruction of Close Combat at the Academy and was instrumental in laying out the groundwork for the techniques that appeared in Proposed Fleet Marine Field Manual 1-4, Hand to Hand Combat, November of 1966. The manual was written in about six weeks, and although ONeill refused to pose for any of the photos in the manual, he did make suggestions and approve all the techniques and photos within. (Jasper, 2002) In this same year, the book, The Devils Brigade, by Robert Aldeman and George Walton would be published, and later, turned into a movie of the same name starring William Holden, Cliff Robertson, and Vince Edwards. The part of ONeill was played by actor Jeremy Slate. After seeing the movie, many

Dermot M. ONeill 16 members of the First Special Service Force, including ONeill, estranged the movie, and the way the American troops were portrayed as misfits. In September of 1967, ONeill managed to get an old acquaintance from Japan, Koichi Tohei, to give a demonstration of Aikido at the Marine Corps Physical Fitness Academy. Tohei was here in the US on a tour promoting his book, Aikido in Daily Life, at the time. ONeill had been a student of Aikido in Japan and had learned the use of ki from Tohei. ONeill would occasionally demonstrate the use of ki with the unbendable arm trick, or asking young marine officers to attempt to lift him off the ground, and using his ki, ONeill could not be budged. (Otott, 2002) ONeill remained at Quantico until the late 1960s and although his system was still being taught to the marines, his methods were never officially adopted for widespread training. ONeill returned to the International Police Academy resuming his position as a combatives instructor until his retirement in the early 1970s. After that, he would act as a consultant on combatives and defensive techniques to the International Police Academy and several other police agencies. ONeill lived a transient type lifestyle, especially after his apartment in Washington DC was sold in the mid 1970s. With the help of some friends, ONeill found another apartment in the DC area in 1980, where he would remain until 1985, when he was hospitalized after he suffered a fall in his kitchen. After numerous other health problems, pneumonia took Pat ONeill on August 11, 1985.

Dermot M. ONeill 17 Mr. ONeills ashes were interred at Arlington National Cemetery at a small service attended by over forty friends, veterans, and associates from the First Special Service Force and the State Department on December 5, 1985. ONeill is remembered by friends and family as a courteous, soft spoken, fun to be with sort of fellow, who spent his later years reminiscing and swapping war stories with other veterans in his apartment building. He didnt smoke, and never cursed or used any sort of profanity around women. ONeill led an almost monkish type of lifestyle, and had very few material possessions. An extremely private man, he very seldom opened up to family members about his life or experiences. Although he knew he would forever be remembered for his combatives work, his real love, which he revealed to an associate at a reunion of the First Special Service Force, was intelligence work. (Dawson,2001)

Dermot M. ONeill 18 The ONeill System of Hand to Hand Combat

ONeills system of hand to hand combat appears to have evolved from the Defendu, that is, William E. Fairbairns system, which he taught to members of the Shanghai Municipal Police in China, to his own methods, based on Chinese foot fighting, that he would teach the First Special Service Force, and later, other Armed Services, government agencies and police. The entire basis of his system was that no matter how big or strong an opponent was, his weakest points were his eyes, throat, groin and knees, and that your legs were stronger and longer, than your opponents arms. His students were advised to poke the eyes, and strike the throat, to essentially grab anything above the waist and throw your opponent to the ground, where he would be finished by kicks/stomps to the head. Any target below the waist, would be kicked or stomped on. A major advantage of the ONeill system was that it could be used in close quarter fighting while carrying weapons. (Conge 2002) There has been much speculation of late to just why ONeill taught the methods he did, that is, what he referred to as Chinese foot fighting, instead of a judo/jujutsu type system that he had a lot of experience with. I believe the answer to this lies in Mr. ONeills knowledge that a judo/jujutsu type system requires several years of training, a luxury that during wartime, just wasnt available

Dermot M. ONeill 19 In ONeills address to Marine Corps brass in 1966, he identified five key points in evaluating or testing any form of hand to hand combat, which are as true today as they were nearly forty years ago.

1. It must be effective and this must be apparent to those taking the training. 2. It should be easy to learn thus, avoiding all complicated movements that are easily forgotten. 3. Special equipment and training areas should not be necessary. 4. Hand to hand combat should be taught in a reasonably short training period, but kept alive by including it in the physical fitness program so that it will not be a one-shot affair given in basic training and then forgotten. 5. Size and weight are immaterial - flexibility, speed and know how should be the aim. (ONeill 1966)

A typical training session at the Marine Corps Fitness Academy would consist of the following 1. Exercises - Deep knee bends, inverted V exercises, and wrist exercises 2. Drills - The On Guard, parrying weapons, elbow blows, finger jab, side kick, pivot kick, falling correctly and the on guard on the ground.

Dermot M. ONeill 20 3. Miscellaneous - The On Guard in a clinch, defenses against kicking, rear take down with neck lock, defense against the bayonet, correct use of the club and other weapons, defense against clubs, knives, machetes, etc. 4. Police Tactics - Pistol disarming, knife defense, defense against holds, wrist break and throw, come along holds, etc. (Conge 2002)

Again from ONeills speech to the Marine Corps in 1966 -

The aim of hand to hand combat, ONeill said, is to make every man a dangerous man, armed or unarmed. Hand to hand combat training he continues, helps to build up the confidence to close with the enemy rather than take a passive position, the result of poor training or no training in this subject. (ONeill 1966)

Dermot M. ONeill 21 References

Aldeman, Robert. D. M. Pat ONeill Interview. 9 pages, 1963. Robert Aldeman Papers, Hoover Institution Archives, Stanford University. Aldeman, Robert and George Walton. The Devils Brigade. Radnor, PA., Chilton Publications. 1966. Brown, Steven C. Dermot M. ONeill: One of the Twentieth Centurys Most Overlooked Combatives Pioneers. Journal of Asian Martial Arts, Volume 12 Number 3, 2003. Buerlein, Robert A. Allied Military Fighting Knives and The Men Who Made Them Famous. Richmond, Virginia, American Historical Foundation. 1984. Dept. of the Army. FM 21-150. Combatives. Washington DC, Headquarters, Dept of the Army. 1971. Encyclopedia Britannica. Shanghai. 14th Edition, Volume 20. 1929. 455 - 458 First Special Service Association. The Devils Brigade. The First Special Service Force, History and Highlights. The First Special Service Force Association Archives.1993. The North China Herald (1935, May 15:265) Judo Surprise for Yokohama Police. ONeill, D. M. Introductory Remarks to Mr. ONeills Course in Hand to Hand Combat. (Transcript of ONeill lecture) Quantico, Virginia. United States Marine Corps Basic School, 1966.

Dermot M. ONeill 22 Pittman, Allen. William E. Fairbairn: British Pioneer In Asian Martial Arts. Journal of Asian Martial Arts. Volume 6 Number 2, 1997, 44 - 55. Sergeant, Harriet. Shanghai, Collision Point of Cultures. New York. Crown Publishers, 1990. Smith, Robert W. Martial Musings. A Portrayal of Martial Arts in the 20th Century. Erie, Pennsylvania, Via Media Publishing Company. 1999. Thompson, Leroy. Swat Call-Out of Yesteryear. The Shanghai Municipal Police Reserve Unit. S.W.A.T. Magazine, September, 1982, 62 - 68 United States Marine Corps. Proposed Fleet Marine Field Manual 1-4, Hand to Hand Combat, Manuscript Draft. Quantico, Virginia, November 1966. The Washington Post (1985, August 23:D6) Obituary, Dermot M. ONeill, ExSecurity Expert at State Dept., Dies.