- Second World War (1939-1945)
- Lieutenant Commander
- F Section, Special Operations Executive (SOE), War Office, British Government
- Awarded on:
"Lieut.-Cmdr. O'Leary was captured by the French police during operations off the south coast of France in April, 1941. He escaped while en route to a French prison, and thereupon set up an organization to help the escape of Allied prisoners of war and evaders. Through his skill and his sustained personal bravery, the organization succeeded, between April and August, 1941, in getting away some 150 officers and men, many belonging to the Royal Air Force. At increased risk to himself, Lieut.-Cmdr. O'Leary was soon forced to expand his organization, to help an ever-increasing number of evaders. To keep the members working at full pressure, and to inspire their confidence, he travelled frequently between the Dutch border and the south of France through numerous German controls, himself escorting numbers of escapers. If any question arose of hazard greater than usual, Lieut.-Cmdr. O'Leary carried out the work himself.
In March, 1943, he was betrayed to the Gestapo by a member of his group. Arrested, he was put to many forms of torture in an attempt to make hinm reveal the names, whereabouts and duties of the other members. He was put in a refrigerator for four hours, he was beaten continually, but never did he disclose information which could be of profit to the enemy. After more ferocious experiments the Germans gave him up as hopeless, and sent him to a concentration camp where he was once again the victim of torture. He was a prisoner in Mauthausen, Natzweiler, Neubremm and finally Dachau. He nearly lost his life in the Neubremm quarries, where he was beaten insensible. Throughout his time in prison, Lieut.-Cmdr. O'Leary's courage never faltered. Numbers of prisoners have given evidence that his moral and physical influence and support saved their lives. On his liberation from Dachau, Lieut.-Cmdr. O'Leary refused to leave the camp, where he had been made "President " of all the prisoners (including some thousands of Russians), until he had ensured that all possible steps had been taken to ease the lot of his fellows. He was then given the opportunity to return to his family, but he insisted on proceeding to France, to trace the surviving members of his organization, and to help them in any way he could.
From the time of inception until the end of the war, Lieut.-Cmdr. O'Leary's group was responsible for the rescue and successful return of over 600 British and American officers and men. It is now known that over 250 owe their safety directly to Lieut.-Cmdr. O'Leary, whose fortitude and determination matched every task and risk."