05 Oct VA Hospital in Big Spring Texas to rename center after Medal of Honor Recipient George O’Brien
Along with unveiling a bronze statue of Big Spring’s Medal of Honor Winner George O’Brien, West Texas VA Medical Center plans to name the hospital after him.
“It could take a while. We’re hoping in the next six months,” it will go through, VA Community Relations Coordinator Iva Jo Hanslik said.
The bronze figure depicting a Marine dressed in combat fatigues, rucksack on his back and rifle in his right hand, was unveiled in November of 2008 by Hanslik and donor Jerry Worthy. It faces northeast on the hospital campus.
Midland business man and ex-Marine Arden Grover, who attended the ceremony, knew O’Brien for 50 years and played many rounds of golf with him. But aside from making Grover feel better about his prowess on the links, O’Brien was an “extraordinary Marine,” earning the Medal of Honor on Oct. 27, 1953, a year after the Korean War battle that brought him the recognition for this rare award for valor.
It was personally bestowed on O’Brien by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Some 3,440 men from all branches of the service and all wars have earned the laurel and only a handful have been Marines.
Unlike other military awards, the Medal of Honor has to go through the chain of command all the way to the president.
On Oct. 27, 1952, a Marine force was holding a “vitally important” hill position near the 38th parallel. They were overrun by Chinese Communists, Grover said. The next day, O’Brien and 100 Marines were ordered to take the position back.
O’Brien raced across exposed ground to the hill, calling for his men to follow. The Chinese unleashed “ferocious” mortar fire that O’Brien later told Grover were like tears.
Shot through the arm, O’Brien was thrown to the ground. He regained his feet, waived his men onward and continued to spearhead the assault, pausing long enough to help a wounded Marine and kill three of the enemy with a carbine rifle.
He was evacuated to the USS Holt for treatment. When he returned to combat later in the year, he was awarded a Purple Heart. There is another bronze statue of O’Brien on the second floor at Midland International Airport.
O’Brien, who was a second lieutenant in the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, learned he would receive the Medal of Honor on a commercial radio broadcast from San Francisco when he was on his way back home aboard a Navy ship.
O’Brien returned to Big Spring about a year after Grover returned to Midland from the war.
“He was an extraordinary Marine and I am very happy I had the pleasure of knowing him,” said Grover, who was in the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines.
O’Brien’s widow, Sandra, said she liked the ceremony.
“I think it was lovely. I think George would like it,” she said.
Their son Robb O’Brien, who traveled to Big Spring from Euless, said his dad didn’t talk much about his experience in the war, but was a Marine through and through. Relatives came from throughout the country to see the ceremony.
“Speaking for myself and my family, this statue was (not only) for him, but it’s for every man and woman who has fought for this country. He has never said a word about it. He truly felt he didn’t do anything anyone else didn’t do. He just got caught,” Robb O’Brien said.
Growing up, O’Brien said his dad was tough but fair.
“He was exactly like a Marine. We would go to restaurants and held the door for my sister and my mother and their chairs,” he recalled. “If we didn’t do it right, we’d go out and come back in and do it again. He was quite a guy, but very fair, very honest and loving.”