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.
CitationFor 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
Texas State Cemetery