May 28, 2010

Robert Barr

   Robert Barr, soldier and first postmaster general of the Republic of Texas, was born in Ohio in 1802 and arrived in Texas before December 5, 1833. At the battle of San Jacinto he served as a private in Capt. William H. Patton's Fourth Company of Col. Sidney Sherman's Second Regiment, Texas Volunteers. On December 22, 1836, Sam Houston appointed Barr postmaster general. Mirabeau B. Lamar reappointed him, but Barr died in Houston on October 11, 1839, soon after the Lamar administration was inaugurated, and was buried with Masonic and Odd Fellows honors. Source

Note: This is a cenotaph. Founders Memorial Park, originally founded in 1836 as Houston's first city cemetery, was rapidly filled due to a yellow fever epidemic and closed to further burials around 1840. The cemetery became neglected over a period of time, often vandalized and was heavily damaged by the 1900 hurricane. In 1936, despite a massive clean up effort, a century of neglect had taken its toll. The vast majority of grave markers were either destroyed or missing and poor record keeping prevented locating individual graves. Several cenotaphs were placed in random areas throughout the park in honor of the more high-profile citizens buried there, but a great number of graves go unmarked to this day.

29° 45.450, -095° 22.768

Founders Memorial Park

May 25, 2010

John S. Roberts

   John S. Roberts, signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence, East Texas merchant, and political figure, was born in Virginia on July 13, 1796. At age sixteen he enlisted in the Tennessee Militia for service in the War of 1812; he participated in the Battle of New Orleans as a member of Col. John Coffee's regiment. He was discharged in May 1815 and turned his eyes westward toward Louisiana. By 1822 he was a resident of Natchitoches, where he became a deputy sheriff in 1826. The same year, he joined the Ayish Bayou forces that took part in the Fredonian Rebellion, led by Haden and Benjamin W. Edwards against the Mexican government of Texas. Roberts was a major in the Fredonian forces and served as a judge at the impeachment trial of Samuel Norris, alcalde of the Nacogdoches District, and JosĂ© Antonio SepĂșlveda, captain of the Nacogdoches Militia. Roberts married Harriet Fenley Collier on December 26, 1826, soon after the murder of her husband, Robert, and settled temporarily on her ranch in the Sabine District of East Texas. The next year, however, for reasons of security, the family - including Robert Collier's two children from a previous marriage, Susan and Nathaniel, and Harriet's son, John Fenley Collier - moved first to San Augustine and finally to Nacogdoches.

   From 1827, when he entered the mercantile business with John Durst, to 1832, when he joined the rebel forces at the battle of Nacogdoches, Roberts was a general merchant and man of affairs in Nacogdoches, where his son Lycurgus was born on April 26, 1830. From the battle of Nacogdoches until the early days of the Texas Revolution in 1835, he pursued his career as a merchant and enlarged his fortune by purchasing cheap land grants. Roberts enlisted in the Nacogdoches Independent Volunteers on October 4, 1835, as a first lieutenant (he was later promoted to captain) under Capt. Thomas J. Rusk and saw distinguished service in the siege of Bexar (November 25 - December 5). He was elected a delegate to the Convention of 1836 at Washington-on-the-Brazos and signed the Declaration of Independence March 2, 1836, after which he quickly departed for Nacogdoches.

   After the revolution Roberts formed a partnership with John Durst and George Allen to engage in the mercantile business at a location across Fredonia Street east of the Old Stone Fort on the town square in Nacogdoches. The next year the firm was doing business as Roberts, Allen, and Company; in 1838 Durst bought out Allen, and the firm of Roberts, Durst and [Frederick T.] Phillips was formed. Later that same year the business was sold to one Francis von der Hoya. Meanwhile, on May 18, 1837, Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Rusk appointed Roberts quartermaster of the Texas Militia; between that date and July 10, 1839, he served as quartermaster of militia on four different occasions, for a total of more than seventeen months. During this time, by an act of the Congress of the republic dated January 10, 1839, he was authorized to adopt Harriet's son, John Collier, and change his name to John F. Roberts.

   Roberts and Durst were adventurous in business, but for Roberts the speculation ended in the fall of 1838, when there began a series of law suits, the nature of which is not known, that resulted in his financial ruin. In the late 1840s he first sought to protect the financial interests of his wife and stepson in the estate of Robert Collier. About this time he entered the grocery and saloon business in Nacogdoches - first on the east side of the town square, and later in the Old Stone Fort, title to which had passed into Harriet's hand. He operated this business until his death on August 9, 1871. His body was interred in the old Oak Grove Cemetery in Nacogdoches. Source

31° 36.203, -094° 38.974

Oak Grove Cemetery

May 21, 2010

George Herman O'Brien

   George Herman O’Brien, Jr., Korean War Medal of Honor recipient, was born on September 10, 1926, in Fort Worth, Texas. He was the son of George H. O’Brien, Sr., and Della (Cartwright) O’Brien. O’Brien’s father operated a grocery store, and his mother was a minister. Young George grew up in Big Spring, Texas, where he graduated from high school in 1944. O’Brien served as a seaman on a gasoline tanker in the United States Merchant Marine from December 1944 to May 1946. In 1946 O’Brien entered Texas Technological College (now Texas Tech University) from which he graduated in 1950 with a degree in geology.

    O’Brien enlisted as a private in the United States Marine Corp Reserve in July 1949. On November 27, 1951, he was ordered to active duty at Quantico, Virginia, to attend the Officer Candidate Course. After successfully completing the course in February 1952, he attended the Officer Basic Course from which he graduated in August. After additional training at Camp Pendleton, California, Second Lieutenant O’Brien was assigned to Korea and the First Marine Division in September 1952.

   On October 26, 1952, Chinese forces, backed by artillery, threatened to overrun a marine position known as the Hook, located on an important hill position (fishhook-shaped) near the thirty-eighth parallel. As the commander of a rifle platoon of Company H, Third Battalion, Seventh Marines, First Marine Division (Reinforced), Lieutenant O’Brien received orders to retake the hill on October 27. In spite of the fact that O’Brien’s company numbered about 100 men against several hundred Chinese Communists, the marines counterattacked after a fierce mortar and artillery bombardment. After giving the order to move forward, O’Brien, followed by his company, raced up the hill in the face of hostile fire. Although shot in the arm and knocked to the ground, he proceeded to lead the attack. After aiding a wounded marine, O’Brien threw hand grenades into enemy bunkers and then killed at least three enemy Chinese with the aid of his carbine in hand-to-hand combat.

   For an additional four hours, Lieutenant O’Brien continued to provide leadership and encouragement against a tough enemy. Although knocked to the ground on three occasions by enemy grenades and refusing medical treatment for his own shrapnel wounds, O’Brien established a defense for the rest of his men and attended to the wounded. After his company was relieved by another marine unit, O’Brien remained in the area to supervise the withdrawal of his men and prevent any wounded from being left behind.

   Lieutenant O’Brien was treated on the hospital ship USS Hope for his wounds. Ironically, he returned to combat a few weeks later and earned a second Purple Heart for additional wounds. While on a troop ship headed home in late summer 1953, O’Brien learned that he would receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions of October 27, 1952. President Dwight Eisenhower presented the medal to Lieutenant O’Brien at a ceremony at the White House on October 27, 1953, one year after his heroics in Korea.

   After the war, George O’Brien returned to Texas where he worked as a petroleum geologist and operated oil and gas wells in the Permian Basin in southeastern New Mexico and West Texas. He retired as a major in the Marine Corps Reserve in 1963. O’Brien’s first marriage to Janet Robb O’Brien ended in divorce; they had two sons and a daughter. On July 28, 1979, he married Sandra Rogers Holland. O’Brien lived in Midland, Texas, where his friends and coworkers saw him as a humble and gracious man. In recalling his Korean service, he told a reporter in 1991, “I didn’t do this by myself…there were a lot of my men who didn’t enjoy the older age that I enjoy.” George H. O’ Brien, Jr., died from complications of emphysema in Midland on March 11, 2005. He was buried in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.

   In January 2012 the Big Spring VA Medical Center was renamed the George H. O’Brien VA Medical Center in ceremonies in which Senator John Cornyn praised the humble Lone Star hero. Source

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as a rifle platoon commander of Company H, in action against enemy aggressor forces. With his platoon subjected to an intense mortar and artillery bombardment while preparing to assault a vitally important hill position on the main line of resistance which had been overrun by a numerically superior enemy force on the preceding night, 2d Lt. O'Brien leaped from his trench when the attack signal was given and, shouting for his men to follow, raced across an exposed saddle and up the enemy-held hill through a virtual hail of deadly small-arms, artillery, and mortar fire. Although shot through the arm and thrown to the ground by hostile automatic-weapons fire as he neared the well-entrenched enemy position, he bravely regained his feet, waved his men onward, and continued to spearhead the assault, pausing only long enough to go to the aid of a wounded marine. Encountering the enemy at close range, he proceeded to hurl handgrenades into the bunkers and, utilizing his carbine to best advantage in savage hand-to-hand combat, succeeded in killing at least 3 of the enemy. Struck down by the concussion of grenades on 3 occasions during the subsequent action, he steadfastly refused to be evacuated for medical treatment and continued to lead his platoon in the assault for a period of nearly 4 hours, repeatedly encouraging his men and maintaining superb direction of the unit. With the attack halted he set up a defense with his remaining forces to prepare for a counterattack, personally checking each position, attending to the wounded and expediting their evacuation. When a relief of the position was effected by another unit, he remained to cover the withdrawal and to assure that no wounded were left behind. By his exceptionally daring and forceful leadership in the face of overwhelming odds, 2d Lt. O'Brien served as a constant source of inspiration to all who observed him and was greatly instrumental in the recapture of a strategic position on the main line of resistance. His indomitable determination and valiant fighting spirit reflect the highest credit upon himself and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

30° 15.970, -097° 43.572

Monument Hill
Texas State Cemetery

May 18, 2010

Amos Milburn

   Amos Milburn, rhythm-and-blues pianist, singer, and bandleader, was born in Houston on April 1, 1927. Milburn, called "the first of the great Texas R&B singers," began developing his talent at an early age. When he was five years old his parents rented a piano for his sister's wedding, and in less than a day young Amos had taught himself to play Jingle Bells. His parents enrolled him in piano lessons, but Milburn jumped ahead by lingering outside local taverns and juke joints and imitating what he heard. In 1942 he lied about his age to enlist in the United States Navy. He spent just over three years in the Pacific Theater, where he entertained troops with his lively piano tunes.

   Upon returning to Houston he put together a band and played in clubs all over the city and the surrounding suburbs. His music so impressed local fan Lola Cullum that she allowed him to practice on her baby grand piano and helped him to record After Midnight. She then took the record and Milburn to Los Angeles, where she visited Eddie Mesner, president of Aladdin Records, in his hospital room and played the record for him. Mesner signed Milburn immediately.

   Milburn began recording for Aladdin on September 12, 1946. In twelve years he recorded about 125 songs, most of them arranged by saxophonist Maxwell Davis. After Midnight sold more than 50,000 copies. In 1949 Milburn was Billboard's best-selling R&B artist. Davis, acting as sax soloist and producer, helped Milburn on seven of his greatest hits: Chicken Shack Boogie, In the Middle of the Night, Hold Me Baby, Bad Bad Whiskey, Good Good Whiskey, Vicious Vicious Vodka, Let's Have a Party, House Party (Tonight), Let Me Go Home, Whiskey, and One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer. These songs and others made it to the Top 10 of Billboard's charts in the early and mid-1950s.

   Milburn's rocking, boogie-woogie piano style greatly influenced such younger stars as Fats Domino and Little Richard. Some of Milburn's songs, such as Let's Rock a While (1951) and Rock, Rock, Rock (1952), anticipated mid-1950s rock-and-roll. Milburn ended his association with Aladdin in 1954. He continued to perform, often with such greats as Charles Brown and Johnny Otis. He toured the country, playing nightclubs in various cities, including Los Angeles, Cleveland, New York City, Dallas, Cincinnati, and Washington. He also recorded for labels such as Ace, King, and Motown. However, he had achieved his greatest success by 1953.

   No stranger to alcohol, as his song titles suggest, Milburn was often ill. He suffered two strokes, lost a leg to amputation, and was an invalid for some time before his death in Houston on January 3, 1980. He was buried in Houston National Cemetery. He was honored with induction into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 2010. Source 

29° 55.681, -095° 27.127

Section A
Houston National Cemetery

May 14, 2010

William Polk Milby

   William Polk Milby, Republic of Texas congressman and Calhoun County merchant, was born in Delaware on January 5, 1809. After first moving to Maryland, he traveled to Texas by way of Louisiana about 1841 and settled initially in Liberty County. He was elected to represent Liberty in the Seventh Congress of the Republic of Texas. He then moved to Port Lavaca and served as county clerk of Calhoun County from 1848 to 1858. In 1853 he acquired land six miles southwest of Indianola, where he tried to develop the town of Cayloma. Five years later he served as commissioner of the Indianola Railroad Company. By 1860 Milby was living in Indianola, where he owned $55,000 in real and personal property, including two slaves. Milby supported secession and was badly hurt by the Civil War and a fire that destroyed his mercantile house in 1867. By 1870 his property was valued at only $1,600. The Indianola stormqv (1875) destroyed his home. Ironically, he had been one of a three-man commission that had cooperated with the federal signal service's coastal reporting station. Milby and his wife, Mary, a native of Pennsylvania, had at least eight children. Milby was a Mason and Episcopalian. He died on February 2, 1887. Source

29° 43.180, -095° 16.458

Glendale Cemetery

May 11, 2010

Ernest Bevil Ford

   Ernest B. Ford was born in D'Lo, Mississippi on February 23, 1916 to Ernest and Grace Bevil Ford. He graduated from Stephen F. Austin State University in 1938. A lyricist, he collaborated on more than two hundred songs with many different composers; some of his best-known songs being Daddy Brings Home the Bacon (and Mama's Gotta Fry It); My Itty Bitty Kitty; Hum, Mister Hummingbird and You'll Be Just as Sweet at Sixty (As You Were At Sweet Sixteen). Among Ford's co-writers represented in this collection are Geoffrey O'Hara, J. Rosamond Johnson, Billy Mills, and Doc Bechtel. Ford retired in 1981 after serving 34 years as an advertising executive with the Houston Chronicle. Ford also owned the Gulf Coast Music publishing company. On April 16, 1991, Ford died in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and buried in Houston.

29° 44.379, -095° 36.528

Section 407
Forest Park Westheimer Cemetery

May 7, 2010

John Emmett Lyle

   John Emmett Lyle, Jr., member of the Texas and United States House of Representatives and the Texas State Cemetery Committee, was born near Paradise in the village of Boyd, Wise County, Texas, on September 4, 1910. A third generation Texan, he graduated from Wichita Falls High School and attended the junior college there, before enrolling in The University of Texas at Austin. While in Austin, he worked as a night watchman in the basement of the Capitol. After graduating from UT, he attended the night school branch of the Houston Law School, and, in 1934, began a legal career that ultimately spanned 69 years. At the suggestion of Governor James Allred, he moved to Corpus Christi, Texas, and set up a private practice. However, in 1939, he was elected to the State Legislature representing a district comprised of Nueces, Duvall and Jim Wells Counties.

   In the beginning of World War II, in 1942, he volunteered and took his basic training as a private in the Army. He was sent to Officer Training School where he graduated as a second Lieutenant. He was then assigned as a platoon leader to an Automatic Weapons Battalion in the 536th. That battalion was quickly sent to North Africa where he experienced combat as well as in Malta, Sicily and Italy. He was awarded a Purple Heart in the Anzio campaign and while serving as an infantry officer in the Arno River campaign, he was nominated and elected to the U. S. Congress for the fourteenth District of Texas. This District was made up of 19 counties. Congressman Lyle became the ranking member on the powerful Rules Committee. He served five terms and chose not to stand for reelection.

   Congressman Lyle returned to South Texas and resumed the practice of law being active in the State Bar Association. He served on the State Board of Directors of the State Bar Association and as President of the Nueces County Bar Association. During that period as a lawyer and businessman, he represented many individuals, major energy companies, and served on corporate boards of both public and privately owned companies. He was a long time member of the Board of St. Luke's Hospital. During those years he served on Presidential Commissions under President Kennedy, Johnson, Reagan and most recently, in 1994, appointed by Presidential Clinton to the Federal Council on Aging.

   In 1963, he moved to Houston, Texas, where he continued to practice law and remained a member of both the Texas Bar Association and the American Bar Association. He was an active trustee for the David Dewhurst Trust as well as a member of the Board of Directors of numerous Falcon Seaboard companies. He was an active member of St. Martin's Episcopal Church and served on the Vestry, as Senior Warden, and as a member of the Senior Council. John Emmett Lyle, Jr. passed away on November 11, 2003, and was buried in the Texas State Cemetery. Source

30° 15.936, -097° 43.638

Republic Hill
Texas State Cemetery

May 4, 2010

Michael Castaneda Pena

   Mike Castaneda Pena, Korean War Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Corpus Christi, Texas on November 6, 1924. He joined the U. S. Army as an infantryman in 1941 when he was 16 years old and served in both World War II and the Korean War. On the evening of Sept. 4, 1950, near Waegwan, Korea, his unit was fiercely attacked. During the course of the counter-attack, Pena realized that their ammunition was running out, and ordered his unit to retreat. He then manned a machine gun to cover their withdrawal and single-handedly held back the enemy until morning when his position was overrun and he was killed. Michael Pena received the Medal of Honor posthumously in 2014.

For acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a member of Company F, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy in Waegwan, Korea, on 4 September 1950. That evening, under cover of darkness and a dreary mist, an enemy battalion moved to within a few yards of Master Sergeant Pena’s platoon. Recognizing the enemy’s approach, Master Sergeant Pena and his men opened fire, but the enemy’s sudden emergence and accurate, point blank fire forced the friendly troops to withdraw. Master Sergeant Pena rapidly reorganized his men and led them in a counterattack which succeeded in regaining the positions they had just lost. He and his men quickly established a defensive perimeter and laid down devastating fire, but enemy troops continued to hurl themselves at the defenses in overwhelming numbers. Realizing that their scarce supply of ammunition would soon make their positions untenable, Master Sergeant Pena ordered his men to fall back and manned a machine gun to cover their withdrawal. He single-handedly held back the enemy until the early hours of the following morning when his position was overrun and he was killed. Master Sergeant Pena’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness at the cost of his own life, above and beyond the call of duty, are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army.

28° 59.939, -095° 57.800

Section 8
Cedarvale Bay City Cemetery
Bay City