Vietnam vet joins friend on Wall of Valor just before passing

Published Jun 16, 2014 at 9:18 am (Updated Jun 16, 2014 at 9:18 am)

The lives of Neil H. Brown and Dan O’Neill crossed paths several times. The first was 47 years ago when the Pittsburgh natives, both lieutenants in the U.S. Army, met at jump school in Georgia during the Vietnam War. They hadn’t known each other before the chance encounter.

The duo connected again in jungle school in Panama, and traveled to and from Vietnam on the same military transport.

During a particularly intense military engagement with the enemy, O’Neill parachuted into the nighttime melee and scrambled into the nearest bomb crater to seek cover. In the midst of the battle, O’Neill heard a familiar voice in the same crater. It was his friend Brown.

After the war, Brown settled in Upper St. Clair and O’Neill moved to Peters Township. The men and their families remained friends.

So, it was only fitting that when Brown was inducted into the Wall of Valor at Veterans of Foreign Wars Memorial Park Post 764 in McMurray June 8, O’Neill was by his side. The two stood together as the plaque honoring Brown was unveiled to a large group of family and friends. O’Neill previously received the same honor.

It may have been the last time the friends stood together. A few days later, Brown died at the age of 66, just shy of his June 15 birthday, from complications of renal cancer, according to his obituary.

Brown depended on a wheelchair and oxygen, but the three years he spent in the U.S. Army remain a vivid memory. His wife of 44 years, Ann, said her husband worked as an insurance broker and is a senior executive vice president for AON. The couple have three daughters, Allison, Ashley and Whitney, along with three young granddaughters. The entire family watched as his plaque was unveiled.

“This is very important for him and he is very happy,” Ann Brown said. She said he was asked several times to join those already on the Wall of Valor, and finally decided to accept the honor.

“I am so proud and honored and I’m very lucky to be his daughter,” said his youngest daughter, Whitney Brown, shortly before the ceremony began.

Brown was the 30th veteran from a foreign war to be inducted into the Wall of Valor. Seven of the former inductees, including O’Neill, attended the ceremony at the post home on Valley Brook Road. Brown earned the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and a Purple Heart while serving as a platoon leader during an air mobile assault operation in August 1969 in the A Shau Valley in Vietnam. During the assault, the lead platoon suffered heavy casualties and its platoon leader was killed. Brown took over and led the assault. The next morning, as Brown was leading the men in a sweep operation against the enemy bunkers, the group came under intense mortar fire. Brown was wounded by fragments, but continued to direct a counterstrike.

He was evacuated for medical treatment, but returned and rejoined his company until the assault ended Aug. 14, 1969.

Just before the plaque was unveiled, O’Neill gave a brief description of Brown’s heroism and said, “I am proud to call Neil ‘Brownie’ Brown my friend and brother.”

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