There isn’t much that flusters the Navy SEAL who killed Osama bin Laden – until he arrived at his own wedding without the rings.
In the first exclusive interview since they married last month, Robert J. O’Neill and wife Jessica shared the story of their beachfront wedding on Cape Cod, their serendipitous first meeting and how they strive to live a normal life in the public eye.
Rob told DailyMailTV: ‘I realized that I had forgotten the rings on the way to the church. I called my friend, Shorty, who is a real problem solver, but he had no idea where they were. He managed to track them down and came racing to the church.
‘We had armed security in a perimeter around the church. Shorty mounted the car on the curb and came running towards the venue, reaching into his pocket. Security almost drew on him but he completely saved the day.’
Armed guards and security perimeters are outside the realm of a typical wedding planner, but since ridding the world of bin Laden in May 2011, safety is a number-one priority for the O’Neills.
Robert O’Neill, 41, was a member of SEAL Team 6 which conducted the May 2, 2011 raid on the 9/11 terrorist mastermind’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. O’Neill came forward three years later and named himself as the man who fired the kill shots.
Joy: Rob and Jessica O’Neill revealed their wedding and shared their wedding photographs with DailyMailTV. They tied the knot in West Harwich, Cape Cod, last month. ‘It was an awesome day and we were surrounded by so many people we love,’ Jessica said
My love: Rob O’Neill tells DailyMailTV he quickly realized Jessica was the one. ‘She flew from New York to Boston to meet up with me. I was at the bar in this nice hotel and she came in and saw me, then did this hilarious silly dance, like she was cheering for herself. That was it for me.’
What a venue: The couple held their reception at the Chatham Bars Inn on Cape Cod. ‘The venue is in a beautiful location, its stunning. It was an awesome day and we were surrounded by so many people we love,’ Jessica tells DailyMailTV
Surrounded by friends: The wedding party included Navy SEALs, and the bride and groom’s childhood friend. DailyMail.com is obscuring some guests’ identities at the request of the O’Neills
On the sea: The Navy special forces operator and his new bride celebrated their wedding on the Cape Cod coast – then honeymooned in Bora Bora. Jessica’s dress was from the Liancarlo Collection.
Smitten: The O’Neills say their romance started for real with a date in New York drinking ‘kick-ass Manhattans’. At first Jessica did not know that he had killed bin Laden
Custom-made: O’Neill had his wedding suit specially outfitted to fit his career as a special forces operator
Patriot: Rob O’Neill had his suit jacket emblazoned with the Stars and Stripes – and the co-ordinates of the Chatham Bars Inn where the reception was held hand-stitched into the lining
Fun time: The couple celebrated the wedding at a reception on Cape Cod, with the music provided by Tim Montana (right), a close friend of the SEAL hero. The two share a hometown in Butte, Montana
Celebrity guest: Kid Rock was among the guests at the wedding, which was conducted under tight security. DailyMail.com is obscuring the identities of other guests for security reasons at the O’Neills’ request
Paradise: The couple honeymooned in Bora Bora, choosing the destination after a conversation early in their romance about where they wanted to travel – and both listing the South Seas island
My love: The couple said their honeymoon photographs barely did justice to the destination. ‘We are beach people,’ Jessica said. ‘Early in our relationship, we talked about the two places we most wanted to visit. Mine were Greece and Bora-Bora; his were South Africa and Bora-Bora. So it was perfect.’
Back to business: The couple are now beginning married life after their idyllic honeymoon, with Rob focusing on his charity, Your Grateful Nation, which helps veterans returning to civilian life
The 16-year veteran of the elite squadron left the military in 2012, four years shy of retirement, voiding his right to a pension. He was deployed on more than a dozen tours of duty in active combat, in four different warzones, including Iraq and Afghanistan. O’Neill was decorated 52 times for his service, leaving as senior chief petty officer.
When it came to his own wedding, Rob applied his Navy SEAL training. ‘I know what to expect, to plan routes and how many people to hire. Its security stuff that I’ve worked a career doing.’
Jessica, 27, told DailyMail.TV: ‘We got married at Chatham Bars Inn which is on the beach. Chatham police and the local sheriff’s department were out in full force. They were lined up around the perimeter and we were really safe. The venue was excellent and very calm about it.’
However the security presence didn’t dampen the mood and the wedding party rocked into the night to country singer, Tim Montana, who led the couple’s wedding band. The beach was covered with passers-by who stopped for a free concert.
‘The band were the best part of the wedding everyone just loved them,’ Jessica said. ‘Tim wrote the song for our first dance, Save the Day. As soon as we heard it, we knew that was it.’
There were a few famous faces at the wedding who asked to remain anonymous. Rob did reluctantly confirm that Kid Rock attended after photos of the singer escaped onto social media.
‘Kid Rock is a good friend and we were really happy he was able to share the day with us,’ Rob said.
Rob and Jessica – then Halpin – first met after the retired SEAL, who is now a sought-after public speaker, was hired for a conference in April 2015 organized by the power line company that Jessica works for.
Initially, Jessica tried to talk her boss out of hiring Rob. ‘I wanted to hire Frank Abagnale, the guy who inspired the Leonardo DiCaprio movie, Catch Me If You Can.
‘I went to tell my boss that I had found the perfect speaker but I was told we were hiring Rob O’Neill. I had to ask who he was.’
Rob added: ‘Jessica’s boss didn’t want to hire a con-man for a leadership seminar, so I lucked out. She really didn’t care for me, I wasn’t the first choice.’
Five months earlier, in November 2014, Rob was named by DailyMail.com as the man who killed bin Laden, which he spoke about in an interview with Fox News.
He struggled with the idea of revealing who he was but came to the realization that his name would inevitably be made public as more and more people seemed to know his identity as time went on.
Close call: Rob O’Neill told DailyMailTV how despite his special forces training, he managed to forget the rings and had to rely on one of the wedding party to get them to the church on time
Sparkler: Rob O’Neill designed the engagement rings with some help from a friend in the diamond business. He proposed in Florida after 11 months of dating. ‘I took a knee and she was looking at me, going, “What are you doing?”‘ Jessica said: ‘I was in disbelief but it was awesome.’
Happy family: ‘He has a really big heart, he’s very sweet and very generous. He will do anything for anyone,’ Jessica says of her new husband.
Start of married life: The couple headed to Bora Bora after a wedding reception surrounded by friends and family.
He told DailyMailTV: ‘The people who wanted to find out [who killed bin Laden] knew by the time we set foot back in the U.S. I had heard my name in D.C., Virginia Beach and San Diego. I could’ve pretended my name wasn’t out there but that would have been complacent because it was.’
A poignant meeting with family members of 9/11 victims also inspired him to come forward.
‘I had donated my uniform anonymously to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. I met around 35 family members of 9/11 victims and I told them the story for the first time. After the reaction I got from them, I figured if I could help them, I could help thousands more.’
In the months that followed his revelation, O’Neill took on a public role as a motivational speaker and established a charity, Your Grateful Nation, to help fellow veterans transition from a military background to a civilian career.
Jessica said that when they first met, she was unaware of Rob’s newly-acquired fame as the man who killed bin Laden.
‘I remember a one-page description about him,’ she said. ‘It didn’t say anything about the [bin Laden] raid.’
She said that she really took notice when he started to speak.
‘He is just an incredible speaker,’ Jessica said. ‘You could tell he was funny and interesting. My friend and I were going for a drink after the conference and we invited him. He asked for my number.’
The Navy SEAL had also found himself a little bit smitten.
He said: ‘She was hosting me and taking me around the conference. When I got on stage to make my speech, I meant to thank the industry and her boss but I only thanked Jessica.’
The couple’s first date took place in New York in summer 2015. Rob said: ‘We were sitting at a bar and after 15 minutes of talking to her I realized that I had never laughed so hard. It was a wonderful night.
‘I didn’t even try to kiss her, I thought there was no way she was interested in me but it was such a great date. I knew I’d never forget it.’
Jessica admitted she also knew it was something special. ‘I remember going home after the date and feeling sad because it would have to be a long-distance relationship.’
Soon texts were flying back and forth, the pair bonding over their shared sense of humor and comedies.
Rob said: ‘We were not talking about politics and foreign policy on our first date. We were talking nonsense and drinking some kick-ass Manhattans. We love the same ridiculous movies. Every flight we take, we watch Get Him to the Greek.’
Jessica said: ‘It’s our favorite movie. I can’t count the number of times we talked about it.’
There was also their mutual love of sports – just don’t ask them to agree on the same team. Rob, from Butte, Montana, is a die-hard Washington Redskins fan while Jessica was raised in Massachusetts.
‘I was born into a legacy,’ she quipped.
‘We like to go to pro-sporting events and we are friends with the Miami Dolphins. We go to the Boston Red Sox and try to catch Yankees games,’ Rob said.
Suddenly, the veteran was finding a lot more reasons to spend time on the East Coast. He said: ‘I would get an offer for a speech with a small budget. If it was in New York, I would sign the contract right away.
‘Then I would call Jess and tell her I had a speech.’
SEAL hero: Jessica only knew that Rob had been a member of the special forces when they met and not the full extent of his service. ‘I remember a one-page description about him,’ she said. ‘It didn’t say anything about the [bin Laden] raid.’
Raid which made history: SEAL Team 6 stormed into bin Laden’s compound in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad under cover of darkness and O’Neill was first to confront bin Laden himself, firing the fatal shots which ended his reign at the top of al Qaeda
Donation: O’Neill donated the shirt he wore during the raid – codenamed Operation Neptune Spear – to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. After he met relatives of 9/11 victims he realized that telling publicly of his role could help them deal with their grief, he told DailyMailTV
WHY I WROTE MY EXTRAORDINARY LIFE STORY
The Navy SEAL veteran shared with DailyMail.com his decision to pen a memoir about his 16-year career and 400 missions including the raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout in 2011.
The Operator: Firing the Shots that Killed Osama bin Laden and My Years as a SEAL Team Warrior, was released in April.
Rob told DailyMail.com: ‘I kept many journals during my time in the Navy and there was a lot to tell.
‘I couldn’t swim when I first joined the Navy but I went on to complete the hardest training in the world and somehow end up on one of the greatest military teams ever assembled.
‘My team rescued Captain Richard Phillips [a mission that inspired the Tom Hanks-led movie by the same name] and I was part of the big team that rescued the lone survivor, SEAL Marcus Luttrell. I was on the base when Bowe Bergdahl walked off.
‘This was a great American story about how it doesn’t matter where you come from, what you look like – you can achieve anything you want as long as you stay positive, get away from negativity and never quit.’
When he had finished writing the book, the Pentagon had to approve it.
Rob said: ‘That was the right way to do it. They made some redactions and got approvals from the right people for certain missions. We made the changes they recommended.
‘They had me change some words and names but they left a lot of the key stuff in there.
‘I think they did that because I was honest and I was fair to both sides. It wasn’t a partisan book or all about me.’
He added: ‘I was a means to an end – I did what any other operator would have done [on killing bin Laden]. It was all about my team. I was so impressed by them and so proud to be part of them.’
Rob said that no classified information was included in the book and that it wouldn’t have necessarily made for an interesting read.
‘The stuff that you are not supposed to talk about isn’t interesting to most people. There’s a lot of technology out there that I personally wouldn’t understand.
‘People want to know what it smelled like climbing up the stairs to bin Laden’s room. Well, it smelled like gunpowder and smoke. And my heart beating through my chest – that’s what it sounded like.
‘Reading it back, I thought to myself, did all this really happen? It’s an interesting process.’
The most difficult part of writing the book, Rob said, was reliving the stories of those fellow service members they lost.
‘I was fortunate that I’ve never had a friend die in front of me,’ Rob said. ‘But one of my biggest regrets is that I never had a last drink with my friend, Robert J. Reeves. He was on the helicopter that was shot down on August 6, 2011.’
Navy Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator, Reeves, 32, was one of 30 American servicemen, including 22 SEALs, who were killed when their Chinook transport helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan. He was also a member of Seal Team 6 which conducted the raid on bin Laden’s compound.
All 38 people on board were killed in the helicopter crash including 30 Americans, seven Afghan commandos and an Afghan interpreter.
The couple grew close quickly and Jessica began traveling with Rob to work events, learning more about his past with every speech.
‘I met him after he was a Navy SEAL and so when I listened to his speeches, I learned more about him and where he’s had to be very tough,’ she said.
‘I was young when the Twin Towers came down and now I’ve met people that it has directly affected. The way they respond to Rob’s story is incredible. He is able to give people closure. It makes me very proud of him.’
She added: ‘But he’s also the funniest person I know and most of his SEAL friends are incredibly funny.
‘He has a really big heart, he’s very sweet and very generous. He will do anything for anyone.’
Rob said that a sense of humor is how most SEALs deal with the stress and demands of their roles. He also made it clear that despite the security risks, the couple don’t live in the shadow of his heroic deeds.
He said: ‘We joke with each other – today, for example, I was taking the laundry out of the dryer and she asked me to put more laundry in. And I jokingly said to her, ‘Do you know who I am?’
She replied: ‘Yeah, you’re the guy he’s going to do the f***** laundry.’
Jessica added: ‘People ask me a lot about how it feels that Rob killed bin Laden. But we don’t wake up in the morning and talk about Osama bin Laden. It’s not in my everyday life, I forget about it for the most part.’
Rob said he quickly realized Jessica was the one. ‘She flew from New York to Boston to meet up with me. I was at the bar in this nice hotel and she came in and saw me, then did this hilarious silly dance, like she was cheering for herself. That was it for me.’
Eleven months after their first meeting, they were engaged. Rob has been married before and has two children.
Rob said: ‘We were in Florida at another work event. I travel all the time but I had the ring with me and I just wanted to give it to her so that I didn’t lose it.’
Rob had designed the ring himself with a little help from a friend in the diamond business.
‘We were sitting on the room’s balcony and she looked beautiful. She had a glass of wine at her feet and got tetchy when I went to move it. I took a knee and she was looking at me, going, “What are you doing?”‘
Jessica said: ‘I was in disbelief but it was awesome. We called our families and everyone was really happy. Everyone I work with is very close and they were all downstairs, waiting with champagne to celebrate with us.’
Even their bachelor and bachelorette parties were spent together. ‘We have friends around the country so we asked everyone meet in Nashville. It’s not a hard place to talk people into going to. We stayed in a great hotel and caught some live music,’ Rob said.
Jessica said: ‘We got engaged quite quickly, so it was a good chance for everyone to meet each other. It was a blast. Our friends, Tim Montana and his wife, had a big cookout for everybody at their house.’
The wedding was always going to be held on Cape Cod, Jessica said, as her family spends every summer vacationing there.
The couple decided to get married at a Catholic church in West Harwich, followed by a reception at Chatham Bars Inn for their 180 guests – among them their families and friends from New England and all corners of the U.S.
Jessica said: ‘When we had our rehearsal dinner, I wanted to get up and thank everyone for coming. Rob gives about 300 speeches a year but I break out in hives just thinking about speaking publicly.
‘So I stood up, tapped my glass and looked at Rob to start speaking but he got very emotional and choked up. So I went for it – and I just blacked out for the next bit. I talked for 20 minutes, I think I thanked all 50 people at the table individually.’
Rob said: ‘She was amazing.’
The couple each had nine in their wedding party. Rob said: ‘My brother Tom was my best man. The groomsmen were mostly guys I grew up with and friends I’ve met since I’ve been out of the Navy.
‘I had two SEALs in my wedding party and some others attended as guests. Two of them were members of SEAL Team 6. Some others couldn’t make it because they had some stuff going on, they are busy nowadays.’
Jessica said: ‘I had a couple of my girlfriends that I grew up with and a few from college, some others from along the way. My maid of honor was my cousin, Amy.
‘The venue is in a beautiful location, it’s stunning. It was an awesome day and we were surrounded by so many people we love.’
Rob added: ‘It was amazing to be able to bring all those people together in one place.’
The couple spent their honeymoon in Bora Bora.
Now for the future: Jessica said she is adjusting to the security risk that is now part of her life. The couple share few personal details about themselves or where they live because of it. ‘We are prepared,’ she said.
Pride: Jessica says of her husband: ‘I met him after he was a Navy SEAL and so when I listened to his speeches, I learned more about him and where he’s had to be very tough.’
Not just serious: ‘He’s the funniest person I know and most of his SEAL friends are incredibly funny. ‘He has a really big heart, he’s very sweet and very generous. He will do anything for anyone,’ Jessica tells DailyMailTV
‘Positivity gets us everywhere’: Rob O’Neill said that he and his wife are looking forward to spending the rest of their lives together
‘We are beach people,’ Jessica said. ‘Early in our relationship, we talked about the two places we most wanted to visit. Mine were Greece and Bora-Bora; his were South Africa and Bora-Bora. So it was perfect.’
Rob added: ‘The pictures don’t do justice to how beautiful it is.’
Earlier this year, O’Neill released a memoir, The Operator, which recounts his illustrious career and the 400 missions he completed. O’Neill was also part of the mission to rescue Captain Richard Phillips from Somali pirates and SEAL Marcus Luttrell from Afghanistan – both heroic tales which have been turned into Hollywood blockbuster movies.
Jessica said she is adjusting to the security risk that is now part of her life. The couple share few personal details about themselves or where they live because of it. ‘We are prepared,’ she said.
Jessica is also learning to cope with the pressure that comes with being married to a high-profile public figure, and she admits she finds it tough being trolled by critics.
Jessica said: ‘When I met him, he wasn’t as well-known but now he is and his online following has grown too. Now someone might say something mean to me.
‘At first I was horrified – some of the comments would be awful. I would get so upset. But you have to grow a thicker skin or just remove yourself from it.’
Rob said that he is able to let criticism roll off him and that it is meaningless compared to getting an email from the wife of a veteran whose family his charity has helped.
‘Do you really want to sit around in the cesspool with the negativity? Positivity gets us everywhere,’ he said.
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