Gov. Donal Neil "Mike" O' Callaghan (1929-2004)

An Act of Congress – S. 2806 -- named the bridge at the Hoover Dam Bypass for Gov. Donal Neil “Mike” O’Callaghan and Pat Tillman, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush on Dec. 8, 2004.

Born in La Crosse, Wisconsin, in 1929, Donal Neil “Mike” O’Callaghan rose to become one of the most important figures in the history of the Silver State.  He was elected governor of Nevada in an upset over his Republican opponent in 1970 and was reelected in 1974 with a 4-to-1 margin, the largest in the state’s history.

Known widely as a compassionate and generous man, “Governor Mike” had a profound and lasting legacy on Nevada, creating a state Consumer Affairs Office, the Division of Aging Services, and the Nevada Housing Division. He also had a significant impact on increasing the number of women, minorities and disabled State employees.

O’Callaghan began his lifetime of public service by joining the U.S. Marine Corps at the age of 16. In 1950, he joined the U.S. Air Force and served as an intelligence operator in the Aleutian Islands. He transferred to the U.S. Army in 1952 to see combat.

On Feb. 13, 1953, O’Callaghan’s company was subjected to a barrage of heavy artillery from Chinese Communist forces during a night attack in the Korean War. Then-Sgt. O'Callaghan was informed that men on an out-guard post had been cut off by this enemy action. He exposed himself to enemy fire, found the men and brought them, together with a wounded member, safely back to the trenches. Soon after, he took a direct hit on the lower leg from an 82 mm mortar round. He rigged a tourniquet out of telephone wire, using a bayonet to twist it tight around his mangled leg. Military accounts reveal “he crawled back to the command post and, from that position, controlled platoon action for the next three and one-half hours, giving orders over the phone. Not until the enemy had withdrawn did he permit himself to be evacuated."

He was awarded the Silver Star and the Bronze Star – with a “V” for valor – for risking his life to save his fellow soldiers during this fierce gun battle. His courage cost him his left leg below the knee.

After returning to the United States, O’Callaghan finished a master's degree in 1956 at the University of Idaho and was hired to teach government, history and economics at Basic High School in Henderson, Nevada. He became lifelong friends with one of his history students, Harry Reid – currently the Majority Leader in the U.S. Senate.

Years after serving as Nevada’s governor, O’Callaghan remained active in state politics – and helped advance U.S. interests internationally as well, including monitoring elections in Nicaragua and Northern Iraq with former President Jimmy Carter.

He became executive editor at the Las Vegas Sun and, in 1981, he bought the Henderson Home News and its sister paper, the Boulder City News.          

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