An American hero


FORT LARAMIE – Nearly 75 years after one Fort Laramie resident was honorably discharged from the U.S. Armed Forces, his daughter – and other members of the community – chose to honor him with a flag presentation ceremony.

“It’s a Father’s Day gift from me to him,” Margie Small, who served in the U.S. Air Force Security Police, said of the ceremony for her father, World War II U.S. Merchant Marines veteran James O’Brien.

Although O’Brien, 92, spent most of his years as a rancher near Fort Laramie, he once traded rolling hills for waves on the high seas. O’Brien served in the U.S. Merchant Marines and assisted the U.S. Navy (in which his father had served), sailing on ships to the Marshall Islands, Germany, and Panama Canal, to pick up soldiers and bring them back to New York Harbor (where they saw women cheering and singing and waving at the soldiers, thrilled to see the troops coming home). Once, he was on a mission to go to Panama Canal, but his fleet was fired upon and unable to make the trip. 

At the flag presentation ceremony, which took place at New Country Church in Fort Laramie, O’Brien also recalled being ready to go to Japan when the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb; seeing the Statue of Liberty standing tall in New York Harbor when they returned to the New York Harbor; and singing songs with the rest of the ship crew in the Amazon.

This month’s ceremony consisted of prayer, music, and speeches.

“We understand we live in a free country because of the price these men and women have paid,” Pastor Marty Rostad said.

Small stated O’Brien and her mother, Betty,  who passed away in 2006 after the couple celebrated 60 years of marriage, adopted her when she was four years old. She called O’Brien a hero.

“I always went back to my roots,” she said. “Serve your community, your people, and your country.”

Commander Thomas Allan of the American Legion Travis Snow Post No. 5, Torrington, officially presented O’Brien with the flag during the event. O’Brien belongs to the American Legion Post No. 1, Van Tassell, which was one of the first four American Legion Posts in the U.S., according to Small, and will celebrate its 100-year commemoration on June 29 in Lusk.

“Thank you for all being here today to share in this most momentous moment with me and my dad,” Small said to the crowd.

Saturday, Gov. Mark Gordon also visited O’Brien at his residence via motorcade to commend him on his service in a private ceremony. This honor was also coordinated by Small.

“This is probably going to be the last big thing I can do for my dad to honor his service to our country – from one veteran to another,” Small said.

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