Private John J. O’Callahan
- Unit: 101st Airborne Division, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment
- Service Number: 35566028
- Date of Birth: November 30, 1921
- Entered the Military: October 31, 1942
- Date of Death: June 6, 1944
- Hometown: Indianapolis, Indiana
- Place of Death: near Angoville-au-Plain, France
- Award(s): Purple Heart
- Cemetery: Plot I, Row 22, Grave 28. Normandy American Cemetery, Colleville-sur-Mer, France
Mentored by Mrs. Rachel Couch
Lawrence North High School
John O’Callahan was the child of John and Theresa O’Callahan. He had three brothers and three sisters, Theresa, Eileen, Thomas, Mary, Robert, and Francis. He was known as Jack to friends and family. His parents immigrated to America from Ireland. His mother, Theresa, passed two years after the war, after the loss of Jack and Thomas. It appears that John O’Callahan, Senior, left the family before World War II began.
The family frequently moved, living in both Indiana and Michigan at the time. In Indianapolis, they lived downtown, on Market Street.
Callahan attended Arsenal Technical High School for two years and then became a local fireman. His enlistment record marks that he was a “railroad fireman” and census records show he worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The family was very active in their local Catholic Church. Irish immigrants founded the Church of the Holy Cross. Jack was the football coach for the church after he dropped out of high school.
He was engaged to a woman named Hilda Weisenbach before he deployed.
Women in Indianapolis
In Indianapolis, many women helped participate in the Red Cross blood bank. There were advertisements in the paper for Hoosiers to give blood to the soldiers who have lost blood at home or overseas.
Fort Benjamin Harrison
This now public park was used as a base and training camp for those enlisted during World War II. This is where Jack Callahan enlisted. Here, many freshly graduated college students from Indiana University were recruited.
There was support for rationing food, tires, and gas to help the war in the Indy Star and all over town. There were clothing drives to collect people’s old clothes to help make clothing to send overseas.
Jack O’Callahan was drafted on October 31, 1942, when he was 20 years old. He joined Fort Benjamin Harrison State Park in Indianapolis. This was used as a base and training camp for incoming soldiers. He reported for active duty on November 14, the same year.
O’Callahan trained as a medic with the 101st Airborne Division, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, Company B. He traveled to England, trained there with his unit, and took part in Operation Tiger with British Prime Minister Churchill present.
His unit’s mission was to capture the church Angoville-au-Plain and turn it into a makeshift hospital. Only two members of his unit were able to accomplish the mission. Kenneth Moore and Robert Wright took injured men into the church to help both American and German soldiers. The Germans then saw this and protected the church. There are now stained glass windows honoring these paratrooper medics.
O’Callahan was riding a C-47 right before his death. On the plane, he turned to his good friend, Kenneth Moore, and told him that he did not think that he would make it. They jumped. O’Callahan was shot as he descended. Later on, the same friend removed his remains, which were hanging from a tree.
After the war, the U.S. government attempted to contact Jack’s father to determine Jack’s final resting place and this brother Thomas. They served with the 45th Infantry Division, 180th Infantry Regiment. Thomas died on March 19, 1945. The military could not reach his father, so both brothers were buried overseas by administrative decision – Jack in Normandy American Cemetery and Thomas in Lorraine American Cemetery.
John J. O’Callahan was a brave man who was given too little time here on Earth than what he deserved. 22 years were not enough. With his parents arriving in the U.S. from Ireland and raising him and his six other siblings in Indianapolis, Indiana, John was deeply loved. Although he was not called John back home, his brother said that everyone knew him as Jack.
You see, Jack O’Callahan was a man who was all about helping others. He made it past the first two years of high school and then dropped out to become a local fireman. He was very involved with his church, especially since his parents were Irish Catholic. He helped coach a local football team. In these years, he found himself a fiancé, and then, he was drafted into the war on Halloween, along with one of his other brothers that were lost in the war.
His unit trained in England and boarded C-47s across the English Channel to seize many objectives before going to the beach. His family and fiancé suffered a tragic loss. He trained to be a paratrooper medic in the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, planning to help save civilian lives and his own men’s. In the plane, before they jumped over this beautiful city that had been turned into a war zone, he turned to his friend, Ken Moore. He looked at him and told him that he did not think that he would make it. And when he jumped, the Germans shot him.
He knew what he was getting into, and his bravery is evident. He was a caring man, just wanting to help others before himself. He was planning for the future with his fiancé. And he was a family man, for he treated his siblings with such playfulness and love. He is dearly missed and never shall be forgotten. He did not deserve to die, and I do not even deserve to be standing here, but I am honored to have gotten to know who he was, a man who was stuck with such bravery and misfortune.
From learning all about John J. O’Callahan, or Jack, and my whole experience traveling to Washington D.C. and Normandy, I have gained a different perspective on life, death, and war. I have learned that bravery does not have to be jumping out of a plane; it does not have to be storming onto a foreign beach with guns pointed toward you. I learned that bravery is putting someone else before yourself, especially in a time of sacrifice or paying the ultimate sacrifice.
With John J. O’Callahan, I learned that no one was prepared to fight and lose their lives. Every man and woman had a life back home, one that they dropped for the sake of their country and the world. These men and women are the ones that every one of us should look up to and admire because most of us do not even know the taste of war or the true meaning of the word sacrifice. I have learned that there is a sense of unity; everyone comes together to play their part.
I have learned that history was not history to them. It was their life. The sights that I have experienced have taught me that it was not always this way. We need to appreciate what we have now due to the bravery and sacrifice of all the people. I learned that there is always another side to the story that is never heard. But my favorite lesson is that in war, nobody wins.
Fruits, Hadley. [Arsenal Technical High School]. Photograph. 2015.
Indiana. Marion County. 1930 U.S. Federal Census. Digital images. ancestry.com.
Indiana. Marion County. 1940 U.S. Federal Census. Digital images. ancestry.com.
John J. O’Callahan. Headstone and Interment Records for U.S. Military Cemeteries on Foreign Soil, 1942-1949. Digital images. ancestry.com.
John J. O’Callahan. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946. ancestry.com.
Thomas D. O’Callahan. Headstone and Interment Records for U.S. Military Cemeteries on Foreign Soil, 1942-1949. Digital images. ancestry.com.
Thomas D. O’Callahan. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946. ancestry.com. *enlisted Jan 30, 1943.
U.S. Army Hospital at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana… Photograph. U.S. National Library of Medicine. collections.nlm.nih.gov/catalog/nlm:nlmuid-101401469-img.
“The 101st Airborne during World War II – Overview.” The 101st Airborne Division. Accessed March 26, 2021. www.ww2-airborne.us/18corps/101abn/101_overview.html.
Davis, Ellen. “Flashback Fridays.” Historic Indianapolis. Accessed March 26, 2021. historicindianapolis.com/flashback-fridays-mary/.
Hammond, William M. Normandy. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1994.
“John J. O’Callahan.” American Battle Monuments Commission. Accessed March 26, 2021. www.abmc.gov/decedent-search/ocallahan%3Djohn.
Kershaw, Alex. The Bedford Boys: One American Town’s Ultimate D-Day Sacrifice. Cambridge: Da Capo, 2003.
Ksander, Yaël. “A Hoosier Woman on the World War II Homefront.” Indiana Public Media, March 28, 2011. indianapublicmedia.org/momentofindianahistory/hoosier-woman-world-war-ii-homefront/.
“Pvt John J. O’Callahan.” Find a Grave. Updated August 8, 2010. Accessed March 26, 2021. www.findagrave.com/memorial/56648337/john-j-ocallahan.
“Pvt Thomas D. O’Callahan.” Find a Grave. Updated August 8, 2010. Accessed March 26, 2021. www.findagrave.com/memorial/56659073/thomas-d-ocallahan.
Russell, John and Robert King. “Demographic Changes Drive Closing of 3 Catholic Parishes.” Indy Star, May 21, 2015. www.indystar.com/story/news/2014/05/21/indianapolis-archbishop-announcing-parish-changes/2312830/.
Stokesbury, James L. A Short History of World War II. New York: Morrow, 1980.
“Thomas D. O’Callahan.” American Battle Monuments Commission. Accessed March 26, 2021. www.abmc.gov/decedent-search/ocallahan%3Dthomas.