January 25, 2017

Five-year-old Jude O'Neal contributed his entire life savings—$2.33—to a scholarship in honor of his great-grandfather. 

Jude O’Neal has a fascination with people in uniform. But the 5-year-old boy never had the opportunity to hear firsthand about the military career of his great-grandfather, Maj. Nolan O’Neal ’75, because the stories heralding his bravery and dedication didn’t begin emerging until the end of the major's life.

Those accounts made a profound impression on Jude. He knew that his family was pooling money to fund a scholarship in his great-grandfather’s honor. When they explained how it worked, the youngster placed his entire life’s savings—$2.33—in a plastic sandwich bag and took it to his great-grandfather’s funeral.

The Major Nolan O’Neal, USA (Ret.) ’75 Aggie Veteran Freedom Scholarship, funded through the Texas A&M Foundation, is a testament to the love of the O’Neal family and the patriotism of this brave World War II soldier.

Standing Down and Starting Anew

Nolan O’Neal would have appreciated the value of the Aggie Veteran Freedom Scholarship program. The decorated soldier wanted to be the first in his family to earn a college degree. But he had to wait until he retired from the military to consolidate the many courses that he completed during his military service into a single degree plan. 

He finally completed his bachelor’s degree in management and graduated from Texas A&M at the same time as his daughter, Rebecca ’75. He remained in College Station, where he managed a consulting company and served as the American Legion commander.

Filling an Essential Gap

Aggie Veteran Freedom Scholarships are offered to veterans over a three-year period through Texas A&M University’s Division of Student Affairs to help to fill the gap when GI Bill benefits lapse. 

About two-thirds of Aggie undergraduate military veterans transfer from other colleges or universities. If their courses don’t transfer, which is quite common, they may exceed time limitations set by the GI Bill.  

In addition, many student veterans are at risk of financial failure. Some pursue an education while supporting a family on less than $18,000 per year, often working several jobs to make ends meet.

Helping a New Generation of Veterans

John Lecounte ’16 is one of many who will benefit from O’Neal’s legacy. He started graduate school at Hawaii Pacific University while serving in the U.S. Army and completing multiple tours in the Middle East. After being discharged, he transferred to Texas A&M to pursue a doctorate in educational human resource development from the College of Education and Human Development.

Lecounte credits the Major Nolan O’Neal, USA (Ret.) ’75 Aggie Veteran Freedom Scholarship for giving him critical financial resources so he can focus his attention on his studies. His wife, a local school teacher, is the family’s primary breadwinner. She hopes to attend graduate school once Lecounte completes his degree.

Saluting Those Who Serve

Denise and Nolan O’Neal ’82, Jude’s grandparents, have a deep understanding of and respect for the sacrifices that military families make for their country. To that end, the couple spearheaded the creation of the scholarship in honor of Nolan's father, as well as a second Aggie Veteran Freedom Scholarship to honor Nolan’s mother Elisabeth Wegner O’Neal.  

This scholarship also will be open to veterans’ spouses, many of whom postponed their own education to support their family while the veteran was on a tour of duty.  

The O’Neals appreciation for veterans has been deeply instilled into the family’s next generations. After meeting Lecounte at a Texas A&M football game, Jude has found another military veteran to admire.

The feeling is completely mutual. “Jude’s contribution to the scholarship in memory of his great-grandfather was definitely from the heart,” Lecounte said. “He cares about veterans at a very young age and that is remarkable. It’s a testament to the way he was raised by his family.”

Learn how you can support an Aggie veteran through a veteran scholarship.