Reflecting on Charles O’Brien

This Memorial Day, our group of eight visited the burial site of First Lieutenant Charles O’Brien, a Pennsylvania native and a Bucknellian in the Class of 1909, at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery. Lt. O’Brien was one of the countless men and women to put their country and its values above all else and serve in the First World War. Lt. O’Brien’s story in WWI was short but powerful, because of his dauntless courage and inspiration. These qualities are some of the reasons why I was compelled to learn more about him and his pre-war story/life.

It was haunting to stare at his grave and conceptualize that he walked on the same quad as me, learned academic and life lessons in the same classrooms as me, and so on. He was someone with hopes and dreams, the same types of hopes and dreams that I possess– he graduated from law school two years before the start of WWI (five years before the U.S. entered the war), and I’m planning on studying law in some form after my graduation from Bucknell. The only thing distinctively different between his life story and mine is the timing. He was faced with a task and decision unlike anything I have ever encountered and a war unlike ever before (a new type of war: a ‘world war,’ a ‘modern’ war). Despite everything he had to lose, he served in the U.S. Army fearlessly. He bravely engaged in the most selfless thing one can do, which is to fight for a cause bigger than oneself. In addition, he went above and beyond his call of duty and led courageously, inspiring courage in his platoon that carried on to a victorious result for the Allied Powers at Oise-Aisne.

Given what I have learned about him, I can only imagine the type of person Lt. O’Brien was: funny and full of life (given the playful nature of the quote cited in his Distinguished Service Cross description), selfless, an inspirational leader, courageous, and respected by those who knew him.

To imagine that someone as brave, selfless and righteous as Lt. O’Brien, or any of the other Bucknellians who served, went to Bucknell– my school, my home away from home– humbles me.

Words cannot express how proud I was in the moment (when I looked upon his gravestone) to be a Bucknellian and an American. And, this feeling has carried on since.

Note: Upon arriving at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, I discovered that Lt. O’Brien (along with the other men and women buried in that cemetery) received a Purple Heart from Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965.

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