October 26, 2010

George Herman O'Brien (1926-2005)

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

October 19, 2010

John Steward Roberts (1796-1871)

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

October 12, 2010

Paul Neal "Red" Adair (1915-2004)

Paul Neal "Red" Adair, the Texas oil well firefighter, was born on June 18, 1915, in Houston, Texas, to Charles and Mary Adair. He had four brothers and three sisters. Red grew up in the Houston Heights and went to school at Harvard Elementary, Hogg Junior High, and Reagan High School, where he was an all-city halfback for the football team when he was in the ninth grade. Though Red hoped to go to college, he had to drop out of high school to help support his family in 1930 as the Great Depression caused his father to close down his blacksmith shop. Red held many types of jobs after dropping out of high school, including a short showing as a semi-professional boxer. In 1936 he went to work for the Southern Pacific Railroad. In 1938 Red obtained his first job working with oil when he joined the Otis Pressure Control Company. He worked in the oil fields of Texas and neighboring states until he was drafted into the US Army in 1945, where he served with the 139th Bomb Disposal Squadron and attained the rank of Staff Sergeant. While in the Army, Red learned about controlling explosions and fires. He was with the 139th disposing bombs in Japan until the spring of 1946. When Red returned to Houston after serving his time in the Army, he was hired by Myron Kinley of the M. M. Kinley Company, one of the innovators for oil well blowouts and fire control. Red worked for Kinley for fourteen years helping put out oil well fires and capping oil blowouts.

In 1959 he resigned from M. M. Kinley and formed his own company, The Red Adair Company, Inc. Through the techniques he learned from Kinley and disposing bombs for the army, Red was able to develop many tools and strategies to control oil well and natural gas well blowouts and fires. The Red Adair Company became a world-renowned name for fighting oil well fires. Red put out fires both inland and offshore all around the world. On average, the company put out forty-two fires every year. By 1961 Red became famous in oil fields around the world. He had put out the offshore CATCO oil fire in 1959 and many other fires both inland and offshore. In November 1961 a Phillip's Petroleum gas well in Algeria had a blowout. The flames from the blowout fire reached heights of over 700 feet and burned 550 million cubic feet of gas per day. The flames were so high, astronaut John Glenn reported seeing the fire from space. The fire came to be known as the Devil's Cigarette Lighter. Red made it to the fire in late November of 1961. He spent months preparing to put out the flame and cap the well. Red had enormous equipment built on-site to handle the pillar of fire. Since the fire was in the Sahara Desert, water had to be pumped from wells and stored in three reservoirs, each ten feet deep and the size of a football field. Red had several bulldozers customized with special housing units and fitted with hooks to pull away debris. After all preparations had been made, men and equipment were soaked with water constantly as they carefully approached the fire in their famous red coveralls and helmets. Nitroglycerin was then placed near the base of the fire. When the nitroglycerin was ignited, the explosion sucked the oxygen from the air and drowned out the fire. Red had been using this technique for years, and had learned a great deal about it from Myron Kinley. Once the fire was blown out, Red's team removed the wellhead and capped the well on May 28, 1962, six months after it had ignited.

Red Adair was already known in oil and gas fields around the world, but blowing out the Devil's Cigarette Lighter made him an icon. He put out several more notable fires in his career including an offshore rig in Louisiana in 1970 and a 1977 blowout in the North Sea. In 1988 a huge explosion at the Piper Alpha Rig off the coast of Scotland brought Red even more renown. Using the ship he helped design, the Tharos, Red approached what was left of the offshore rig and used the ship's unique equipment to put out fires and cap the wells. At seventy-three, Red was no longer able to jump from a ship to an oil rig, so he had two of his men climb onto what was left of Piper Alpha to clear debris. Once most of the debris was cleared, the men began to put out the fires using nitroglycerin and the ocean water. On some days the wind would blow in just the right direction and help put the water right where it needed to be. On other days the seventy mile-per-hour wind worked against them. Eventually Red and his team were able to put out the fires and cap the wells. The Piper Alpha blaze brought Red in the public eye once again.

Red continued to put out fires around the world, and in 1991, he helped put out many oil fires in Kuwait. At the closing of the Persian Gulf War, Saddam Hussein's armies retreated from Kuwait igniting many oil wells in order to keep them out of the hands of the Kuwaitis and Americans. Red was hired to put out the flames. More than one hundred wells were ignited, and putting them out was estimated to take three to five years. Red extinguished 117 burning wells in nine months. On top of working in the field as much as he could, Red also designed and developed many different types of firefighting equipment. At the age of nineteen he had designed a lever that could haul coal from railroad cars. His equipment was so innovative, that he formed a separate company, The Red Adair Service and Marine Company, in 1972 to sell firefighting equipment to others in the industry. Red liked to rig bulldozers with special fittings to keep heat out. He would also fix long beams on the bulldozers and use those beams to put nitroglycerin into a blaze or even use those beams like a fixed crane to bring in heavy materials. One of Red's most famous designs was the semi-submersible firefighting vessel, used to fight offshore oil well fires. Red designed several ships for oil companies around the world, many of which are still in use today.

Red's work brought him many awards. He received the Walton Clark Medal Citation from the Franklin Institute. The city of Houston presented Red with both the Outstanding Houstonian Award and the Houston Distinguished Sales and Citizenship Award. After his popularity skyrocketed when he put out the Devil's Cigarette Lighter, a film was loosely based on Red's life. The movie Hellfighters, starring John Wayne, was released in 1968. Red served as a technical advisor. Although much of his fame came from his reputation as a daredevil, Red was also known to be a stickler when it came to safety. Red always boasted that none of his men had ever been killed or seriously injured while working for him. In 1993 Red Adair finally retired and sold the Red Adair Company. He then started Adair Enterprises as a consulting company that helped other firefighters. Many of Red's firefighters went on to form their own companies after working for him. Boots Hansen and Coots Matthews broke away from The Red Adair Company in 1978 to form their own firefighting company. They eventually merged with another group of firefighters that had once worked for Red. Although he retired from actual firefighting and fieldwork in 1993, Red stayed active in the firefighting business until he died at the age of eighty-nine on August 7, 2004, in the city of Houston. He was survived by his wife Kemmie and a son and daughter. Source

29° 43.358, -095° 18.226

Abbey Mausoleum
Forest Park Lawndale Cemetery

October 5, 2010

Therman B. "Sonny" Fisher (1931-2002)

Singer, songwriter, and guitarist Therman Fisher, better known as "Sonny," was born on November 13, 1931, in Chandler, Texas. He was known for being a pioneering rockabilly artist in the 1950s. Combining together the blues and country genres, the “Wild Man from Texas” was one of the many American rockabilly artists of the 1950s who was unable to make it big in his regional markets but became popular in Europe as a result of a growing interest in the genre in the late 1970s. Sonny Fisher was born on a farm in the small town of Chandler. Shortly after he was born, the family relocated to Tacoma, Washington, where Fisher grew up listening to his father sing and play the guitar. Ultimately settling in Houston, Fisher formed the Rocking Boys in the early 1950s after seeing Elvis Presley perform in 1954 at the Paladium. Teaming up with bassist Leonard Curry, drummer Darrell Newsome, and guitarist Joey Long, the group appeared alongside artists such as Elvis, George Jones, and Tommy Sands at shows in Houston and Beaumont. Fisher paid for his own recording session with engineer Bill Quinn at his Gold Star Studios in Houston, and his “Elvis-like” performance caught the attention of Quinn who alerted Jack Starnes of Starday Records.

In early 1955 Fisher signed a one-year contract with H. W. “Pappy” Daily of Starday. Daily later recorded J. P. “Big Bopper” Richardson, George Jones, and others. Starnes served as Fisher’s manager. Fisher’s next recording session took place in January 1955 at Quinn’s studio. His records released under the Starday label included Rockin’ Daddy, Hold Me Baby, Hey Mama, Sneaky Pete, I Can’t Lose, and Rockin’ and Rollin’; Rockin’ Daddy became a regional hit. After receiving a royalty check from Starday for only $126, however, Fisher refused to sign with the label again. Fisher attempted to start his own record label, Columbus Records. With little success, he left the music scene in 1965 to dedicate his time to his floor-laying business. The singer’s entire 1950s output was composed of a mere eight songs, all recorded in the years 1955 and 1956. In 1980 Ted Carroll and Roger Armstrong of Ace Records in London gathered the eight songs Fisher had recorded between 1955 and 1956 and combined them on a 10” LP, entitling it Texas Rockabilly. The album launched the record label and caused a popular rockabilly revival throughout Europe. Following the release of Texas Rockabilly, Fisher recorded an EP of new material for the label in May 1980.

From 1981 to 1983, he played shows throughout Europe with artists such as Eddie Fontaine, Gene Summers, Billy Hancock, and Jack Scott. After moving back to Texas, Fisher visited Spain in 1993 to record with veteran rockabilly artist Sleepy LaBeef and the Spanish band Los Solitarios. Fisher disappeared from the public eye shortly thereafter. Despite his disappearance, the singer left a lasting impression on Europe, embodying the essence of early Texas rockabilly to his fans. Fisher died on October 8, 2005 in Houston. He was survived by daughters Vicky Daigle, Kimberly Eason, and Felisha Evans; sons Gary Bennett Fisher, Tony Wayne Fisher, Gordon B. Fisher, and Wendell C Fisher; sister Judy Weber; and brothers Charles and Carl Frieley; as well as nine grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Source

29° 54.940, -095° 18.860

Section 47
Brookside Memorial Park