V-E Day Remembered: U-Haul Celebrates WWII Veteran Thomas M. O’Donnell

Apr 27, 2020

U-Haul is marking 75 years of moving America by saluting its pioneers who served in WWII, like Portland native O’Donnell

V-E Day on May 8 marks the 75th anniversary of the Allied victory in Europe. Veterans such as Thomas M. “Tom” O’Donnell returned home to start a new life after the war, and in doing so planted the seeds of prosperity for U-Haul®, a product of the peace for which they fought.

U-Haul is also celebrating 75 years of service. WWII Navy veteran L.S. “Sam” Shoen and his wife, Anna Mary Carty Shoen, conceived U-Haul in June 1945 when they recognized a basic need while moving up the West Coast, having abandoned most of their belongings since one-way trailer rentals did not yet exist.

From that idea, an industry was born and a new level of mobility became attainable for every American family.

To commemorate both events, U-Haul is celebrating former Team Members and U-Haul neighborhood dealers who served in WWII, such as Portland native Tom O’Donnell.

Air Force Pilot

Thunderbird’s 100th Mission photo via Jan. 15, 1945. (Back L-R) Sgt. George F. Hof; Sgt. Louis H. Redhage; 2Lt. Raymond C. Crawford; 1Lt. Thomas M. O’Donnell; 2Lt. Zaven Jardarian; Sgt. Billy A. Gaumer; 2Lt. Traynum D. Goulding; (Front L-R) T/Sgt. Sol Portney, T/Sgt. Norbert G. Fischer; Crew Chief James Thomson is in the pilot’s seat. Photo courtesy of Billy “Red” Gaumer.

O’Donnell was born in Portland in 1921. In 1940, he graduated from Jefferson High School. Three years later he entered the U.S. Air Force, where he was commissioned and assigned to the 303rd Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force stationed in Molesworth, England.

During WWII, O’Donnell was a B-17 bomber pilot and participated in 35 combat missions over enemy territory. He earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with five oak leaf clusters, and a Presidential Unit Citation. He also received the European African Middle Eastern Service Medal with three Bronze Stars.

One of the B-17s he piloted, the Thunderbird, flew 112 combat missions during WWII and is depicted in a mural displayed in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

After the war, O’Donnell enrolled in the University of Portland. He graduated cum laude in 1949 with a degree in business. 

U-Haul Career

Tom O’Donnell as ARCOA vice president, 1962

O’Donnell joined ARCOA, Inc. (name for the parent company of U-Haul at the time), in 1952 as a management trainee. Over the years, he held a number of executive management positions, including office manager, general manager, director of marketing and vice president.

He left ARCOA in 1967 when the company moved its corporate headquarters to Phoenix. O’Donnell went to be a partner in the Royal Fork restaurant chain, and later worked in banking, ranching and real estate development.

O’Donnell passed away in 2009 in Portland.

The Shoens started U-Haul upon Sam’s discharge with $4,000 of accumulated Navy pay and the courage formed by the cauldron of WWII. With the help of other veterans, the young couple forged their new enterprise from the freedom that victory produced.

Veteran Initiative

Today, U-Haul serves all 50 states and 10 Canadian provinces, helping an estimated 11 million families move every year. O’Donnell is one of the many veterans who laid the foundation for the present prosperity U-Haul enjoys.

U-Haul founders Anna Mary and L.S. “Sam” Shoen

U-Haul continues to aggressively recruit veterans and gives them preference in the hiring process, having been recognized repeatedly as one of the nation’s top veteran-friendly employers. U-Haul is also committed to honoring veterans and supporting veteran causes. This is accomplished through direct assistance to veteran groups, as well as participation and sponsorship of Memorial Day and Veterans Day parades, and Pearl Harbor tributes.

These 2020 tributes will peak triumphantly with the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum’s dedication of the renovated Ford Island Control Tower on Aug. 29. U-Haul Pacific Theater veterans’ bios and photos will be displayed in the tower lobby. The tower will offer a new elevator, gifted by U-Haul CEO Joe Shoen, providing public access to the observation deck where America’s lone WWII aviation battlefield can be revered and our heroes remembered.

U-Haul is one of a myriad of companies built by these incredible veterans, who are to be saluted and remembered during this 75th anniversary celebration. Thank you, Tom.

Find more veteran tributes in the History and Culture section of myuhaulstory.com.

** Feature image of Tom O’Donnell and flight crew via Dec. 29, 1944. (Back L-R) 1Lt. Thomas M. O’Donnell; 2Lt. Traynum D. Goulding; 2Lt. Zaven Jardarian; 2Lt. Raymond C. Crawford; (Front L-R) Sgt. George F. Hoffman; Sgt. Billy A. Gaumer; Sgt. Louis H. Redhage; T/Sgt. Sol Portney; Sgt. Norbert G. Fischer. Photo courtesy of Billy “Red” Gaumer.

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