James O'Carroll 1920-2013: WWII prisoner of war, Tulsa psychiatrist dies at 92
BY TIM STANLEY World Staff Writer
Sunday, January 20, 2013
1/20/13 at 3:26 AM
Having endured the Great Depression on his poor family's farm in Ireland, it wasn't surprising that James O'Carroll had high expectations of life in the Army.
And for a while it did prove better.
But then his prospects took an unforeseen turn.
Serving with a British Commando unit during World War II, O'Carroll survived the D-Day invasion of France only to find himself shortly thereafter a prisoner of war.
Confined to a Nazi prison camp in Poland, he was subjected to slave labor and later was led on a deadly forced march to a camp in Germany.
But through it all, O'Carroll, a future Tulsa psychiatrist, kept his wits.
He watched for opportunities, and when a good one finally came, he made the most of it.
Dr. James O'Carroll, a former Irish farm boy who escaped from German hands to eventually build a new life in America, died Jan. 6 in Ballybunion, Ireland, and was buried there. He was 92.
O'Carroll had moved back to his native Ballybunion several years ago. No Tulsa service is planned.
After settling in Oklahoma in 1960, it didn't take O'Carroll long to fall in love with his new home.
"He had always dreamed of the prairie," said his son, Richard O'Carroll of Tulsa. "The farm he grew up on had been boggy, the kind that would suck your shoes off."
The surer footing could not make O'Carroll forget his youth, though. The experience of growing up on that farm had helped define him.
The O'Carroll family had been dirt poor - so poor, he would later recall, that they had to wait until their relatives were through with the horse before they could plow their own field.
To earn a few extra shillings, O'Carroll hauled coal and flour in his spare time away from school.
But then came the war, and he left farm life behind.
Volunteering for the original British Commando forces, he served as an instructor and later participated in the Allied invasion of France.
On D-Day, June 6, 1944, O'Carroll's unit landed on the French coast at Sword Beach. But as they advanced, they met fierce resistance from German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's 21st Panzer Division.
Three weeks later O'Carroll and others were captured.
Fortunately, although German orders were to kill all captured commandos, Rommel was not heeding the order, O'Carroll later recalled.
He and other prisoners were instead loaded onto boxcars and transported to Poland. Several were killed en route when Allied fighters strafed the railway.
Once the rest were at their camp, O'Carroll worked in a nearby sugar factory before insubordination got him assigned to a slave-labor detail.
Later, the POWs were transferred to a Hanover, Germany, prison camp. O'Carroll later wrote a poem about the forced march they were led on. He called it "Boots."
It was in bomb-ravaged Hanover that he and a fellow prisoner, a Scot, finally escaped - through a hole in the camp's fence.
Fleeing across the countryside, they were recaptured only to escape again before finally running into U.S. troops near Kassel.
After the war, O'Carroll earned a medical degree from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. He then immigrated to Canada and then to the United States.
In Oklahoma, he worked for Eastern State Hospital in Vinita. He led efforts to improve and reform the psychiatric facility before entering private practice in Tulsa, where he retired after 20 years.
After his childhood of poverty, O'Carroll never took his opportunities for granted. He set a high bar for his children and helped them live up to it.
His father was proud of how well they did, said Richard O'Carroll, who became an attorney, adding that among his siblings are two doctors and an engineer.
"It was the straight-up American dream," he said. "I knew when I was in the sixth grade that I was going to be a doctor or a lawyer. It wasn't even questioned. It was the expectation."
Among O'Carroll's survivors is his wife, Peggy O'Carroll. The two, from the same part of Ireland, originally met after the war on a ship. They rekindled their romance about 20 years ago, when O'Carroll traveled to Australia to see her.
Other survivors include seven children, Marianne Cohn, J. Ormonde Staveley-O'Carroll, Richard O'Carroll, Kevin Staveley-O'Carroll, Kathleen Rieves, Julie O'Carroll and Valerie O'Carroll; 18 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.
Original Print Headline: Tulsa doctor lived American dream
Tim Stanley 918-581-8385
James O'Carroll, pictured here in 2000, was a longtime Tulsa psychiatrist with quite a story to tell. A native of Ireland and World War II veteran, O'Carroll participated in D-Day as a British Commando and later escaped from a Nazi prison camp. O'Carroll, 92, died Jan. 6. Courtesy