Monday, August 24, 2009

A Sad Farewell

Today, I attended a memorial service. For a man I did not know. Because I knew I must. For him.

CW5 Robert O. O'Brien was a bandmaster in the U.S. Army. He died here in Columbia, SC, back in April of this year. Scott knew him, but not well...Mr. O'Brien was one of the people who sat in on Scott's warrant officer audition years ago.

We didn't know he died. I get the local paper every day, and yes, I read the obituaries. Always have. So, I would have seen an obituary, had it been printed. When Scott found out he died, it was early May. I still had the papers for several weeks back, and I combed through the obituaries. I went online to The State and checked there, thinking I might have missed it. There was nothing. That was so odd.

Because Bob retired here in 2003, and you'd think that an obituary would have been placed here by his family. But there was mention of a funeral, or a service. It was as though he were nothing...

I combed the internet to try and find something...anything about Bob. There was a small snippet from some class reunion site, which said:

Robert O. O'Brien...musician, beloved son of the late Joseph and Margaret, died April
21, 2009 in Columbia, South Carolina. His early love of music led to a distinguished career as arranger and band leader in the U.S. military. He is mourned by Geoffrey, Carly, Heather, LaVerne, Yasoko and Harriet. (From New York Times Obituary)

That was IT? Nothing about his life other than a snippet of his career? No "he will be sadly missed by his brother, etc.". I continued to look, thinking that this man had been forgotten. I found this, from a website for the Fort Ord Band:

CW5 (ret) Robert O. O’Brien passed away on 21 April 2009, after a long struggle with cancer, in Columbia, South Carolina. I had hoped to have more details, but they have not been forthcoming and an obituary is not yet available. He was a member of the USMA Band, 1966-1971. Without details, I can only estimate his age at the time of his passing at approximately 64.

Bob enlisted for the USMA Band in 1966 as an arranger, joining Ken Whitcomb, already on the staff, assisted by Chuck Collazzi who was an outstanding guitarist and copyist. By Dec of that year he was appointed a CWO, then quickly promoted to CW2, giving the arranging staff of the USMA Band a complement of two Warrant Officers and several copyists. On 14 Dec 1969, he was separated from service then received
a Direct Commission to 2nd Lieutenant on 15 Dec 1969. With that, he became the Chief Arranger upon CW3 Ken Whitcomb’s departure, remaining until 1971. As an additional duty he was also the Combo Officer, arranging some commitments and collecting payments for disbursement, before that type of thing evolved into the current system. Bob then left service once again for about two years, re-entering later as an Army Bandmaster, again was appointed a CWO and embarked on his new career as a Warrant Officer Bandmaster.

Bob went to the Warrant Officer Senior Course at Ft. Benjamin Harrison in 1988. CWO O’Brien was highly talented, innovative, and his bands performed extremely well under his Command. He eventually became the Staff Bands Officer for CONARC (sic TRADOC). He attained the rank of CW5 and worked in the Band proponency office for C, AB in 2000. After completing that posting, he retired in June 2003 to
Columbia , South Carolina. After leaving the Army a second time, he had formed his own music publishing company for a couple of years....."

A much better, and more fitting tribute to this man. What he deserved...what people should have known and been told about him.

What he did not deserve, however, was what happened after his death. He was cremated, but no other plans were ever made for him. Finally, after some time, his sister-in-law was contacted and eventually, a memorial service was planned for him. Since he was a bandmaster, Scott wanted to show him all the respect due a CW5 bandmaster, and offered to provide a full band, something not usually done for most military funerals.

His memorial service was held at the new Ft. Jackson National Cemetery. There were 12 people there, not counting the band, honor guard, firing party and cemetery employees. TWELVE people (including me). Of those 12, six people likely didn't know him well, or at all. I didn't know him, but having heard his story, I was determined to be there; determined that this man deserved at least a few people to bid him farewell. The band came in dress blues...they were sharp and somber.

We all stood. The band played a song as the flag was unfurled (apparently, they weren't even going to do this, but Scott insisted they do this the right way and honor Mr. O'Brien properly). The firing party shot its 3 rounds. The bugler played a moving and beautiful rendition of Taps. The band played another song as the flag was folded. The flag was presented to Mr. O'Brien's real estate agent. read THAT right. No one in his family was here. That broke my heart. NO ONE bothered to come from his family.

After the flag was presented, the funeral director made some noises about why the family didn't come, why he was taking pictures, etc. But in the end, the final point was clear. This man died, and his family didn't come.

After all was said and done, there was some small talk at the ceremony site. I went up to Bob's urn and said a little prayer. I hope that what happened today helped a bit. That he is up in heaven, and he knows that he wasn't forgotten and was treated with dignity and respect. I prayed that he knew God and was now whole and healthy again.

Because in the end, you don't want to be alone, forgotten.

I hope that one day, when I die, people are there for me.


Gwen said...

That's very sad. It makes you wonder what happened in his life that led his family to abandon him not only at his death, but also assuming throughout his battle with cancer.

I'm glad that you were able to go and honor this man.

Christy said...

Truly sad.

Berry Patch said...

And today I read this & it's in sharp contrast to the farewell our church gave to a young 21-year-old solider lost in the Afghanistan. Thank you for you & Scott for giving this man the farewell he deserved.

Jessica said...

WOW! That is quite a moving story! If I lived nearby I would have come and joined you Linda! Thank you and your husband for honoring this man.

Traci M said...

Linda, WOW is right!! I had no idea, if I had known I would have been standing right there beside you. Family is so important and no matter what happened this man was a "father, brother, husband" to someone that could not make time to honor a man that deserved to be treated with respect. I am with you girl, I knew we came from the same "mold", I am proud of you and your husband for standing up for is right. I can't wait to share this story with my husband, you brought me to tears just reading it. Thank you for showing God's love with people you did not even know! I am proud of you!

saintseester said...

That is terribly sad; it makes me wonder how lonely he probably was before he died.

Anonymous said...

Chief O'Brien was my Bandmaster at Fort Ord, California back in 1983-1986. His brother, Joel "Bishop" O'Brien (credited with drum work on Carole King's "Tapestry" album) preceded him in death a few years ago. Mr. O'Brien was a remarkable musician with an ear that could pick out intonation nuances which the average listener would not be able to hear. Unfortunately, I was in Afghanistan when Chief passed. I will always be thankful for Mr. O'Brien's example of service and attention to detail. Rest well, Chief!

Anonymous said...

It was very sad to read this story about Chief O'Brien. I had the pleasure of corresponding with him in the late 1980's, when he supplied details of his career for an article.
Bob O'Brien was born in 1941 and served as Commander and Bandmaster of the 7th Infantry Division Band 1984-1988 and the 296the Army Band from 1988 to un unknown date.
RIP Bob!
Björn Fredriksson
Former International Chairman

Anonymous said...

For more information about this Bandconductor and arranger look at:

from Kalkar/Germany

Emmett Yoshioka said...

I worked with Bob as one of his arrangers and copyist. It was a shock to me when I discovered that he had passed. We spent many hours at his place in West Point tossing back a few "brews" and just having a great time talking about music and other topics. He was a truly gifted musician, arranger and a good friend. I wish I could have been there for the ceremony in his honor, but I am in Hawaii and news travels very slowly.