October 26, 1891 (Norwalk, CT) – October 14, 1918; 26 years old
Last local address: 12 Hamilton Avenue, South Norwalk
Entered the service on October 3, 1917
Serial number 2382914
Unit: 5th Infantry Division, 60th Infantry, Company C
Born to Michael J. O’Brien (1869-1946) and Mary O’Brien (1872-1938). One brother, William (1894-1951), who also served in the war. One sister, Grace O’Brien Butler (1898-1963).
Employed as a machinist’s helper at Higley Machine Company in Norwalk prior to the service.
The namesake of the Jeremiah F. O’Brien Chapter Auxiliary, Disabled American Veterans, now disbanded.
Killed In Action in Nantillois, France. The 60th Division was involved in these campaigns: St. Mihiel; Meuse-Argonne; Alsace 1918; Lorraine 1918.
From an unknown newspaper found among newspaper clippings in the Norwalk History Room in the Norwalk Library
PRI. JERRY O’BRIEN KILLED IN FRANCE
Popular Young Man Made the Supreme Sacrifice on October 14
Private Jeremiah F. O’Brien, Company C, 60th U.S. Infantry, A.E.F., has made the Supreme Sacrifice upon the glorious field of honor in France. A fearless and courageous young man he left this city a little over a year ago to answer the call of his country, and gave his most priceless possession, his life, that his flag and country might live.
The son of Mr. and Mrs. Michael J. O’Brien of 12 Hamilton Avenue, he was born and spent his entire life in this city. His cheerful and pleasing disposition and ever-present smile won him the friendship and high regard and respect of the entire city.
He was a young man of but twenty-six years of age and is by trade a hatter, but for some time before entering the service, he was employed at Higley’s Machine Shop on Water Street, where he was regarded as an invaluable employee.
He left his home and friends with a detachment of other men for Camp Devens on October 6, 1917. Following a few months of training at this cantonment, he was transferred to Camp Greene, Charlotte, North Carolina, and later to Camp Merritt, New Jersey where he was assigned to a unit of the U.S. Regulars and with whom he left shortly after for France where he arrived during the month of April.
The army life was a great attraction to him and his letters to the folks at home showed his favoritism for this form of living. He made his first trip to the trenches in July and while on this second trip, about a month later, he stated in a letter home that he was “just itching for more action.”
The last word received from him was a letter which reached here September 26 and in which he wrote that he was in perfect health. No further communication was received until the fateful missive from Adjutant-General Harris arrived from Washington on Saturday afternoon, which read as follows:
“We deeply regret to inform you that Private Jeremiah F. O’Brien, was killed in action on October 14.”
Besides his large host of friends and relatives in this city, Private O’Brien leaves his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Michael J. O’Brien, one brother, Private William O’Brien, formerly connected with the reportorial staff of The Sentinel and who is now in the U.S. Marine Corps at Quantico, Virginia, and one sister, Miss Grace O’Brien of this city.
From The Norwalk Hour November 25, 1918
Yet another name of one of Norwalk’s brave sons will have to be inscribed in gold on the Norwalk Roll of Honor, showing that he died a hero – that of Private Jeremiah Fisher O’Brien, son of Mr. and Mrs. Harold J. O’Brien of 12 Hamilton Avenue who was killed in action on October 14. Mr. and Mrs. O’Brien received the telegram on Saturday evening from Washington which said “Deeply regret to inform you that Private Jeremiah F. O’Brien was killed in action on October 14. Harris, adjutant general.” He is survived by his parents, a brother, Corporal William O’Brien, U.S. Marine Corps stationed at Paris Island S.C. as an instructor in sharpshooting, and a sister, Miss Grace O’Brien.
Jeremiah’s mother (above) made the pilgrimage to France as part of the Gold Star Mothers and Widows program in 1929.
In the aftermath of World War I, wives became widows, and mothers outlived their sons. More than 100,000 Americans died during the Great War, creating suffering and pain for those family members they left behind. Through the Gold Star pilgrimages of 1930 to 1933, the U.S. government specifically recognized the sacrifices of these mothers and widows who chose burial in an overseas American military cemetery for their sons or husbands.
As the war raged, the Gold Star became a symbol for mourning the fallen. Families who lost a loved one in the service hung a Gold Star in their windows. Their female relatives referred to themselves as Gold Star mothers and widows, and they created several national organizations for collective mourning and support. These groups lobbied Congress for an official government-funded pilgrimage to visit their loved ones’ graves, which the government authorized on March 2, 1929.
All mothers and un-remarried widows of someone buried or memorialized at an ABMC cemetery received an invitation. Over the course of the program, 6,654 women participated. These pilgrims represented the diversity of the American army in World War I. However, in keeping with the Jim Crow-Era segregation of the military at the time, the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps racially segregated the pilgrimages. African-American women traveled in separate groups, a decision that created much controversy. While many objected, 168 African-American women still participated as pilgrims.
Even after the crash of the stock market in October 1929 and the onset of the Great Depression, the federal government funded the entire pilgrimage. The Quartermaster Corps meticulously organized the program and cared for the mothers and widows. They arranged every detail of the journey and monitored the pilgrims’ physical and emotional health. Escorted by Army officers and nurses, the pilgrims traveled to many of the major tourist sites in the countries they visited, including the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, where they laid a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They subsequently traveled to the cemeteries and visited the battlefields and memorials in addition to the graves of their loved ones.
Cemetery staff decorated the graves with the flags of the U.S. and the host country. They provided a chair for the pilgrim to sit next to the headstone and reflect. Each pilgrim received a photograph of herself at the tombstone, where she also laid a memorial wreath. These personal touches added to the dignity of the pilgrimages and demonstrated the government’s commitment to the cemeteries.
The Gold Star pilgrimages honored these women’s sacrifices and eased their grief. After her 1930 pilgrimage to the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, Mrs. O.B. Johnson of Iowa told the Army how “the Government is certainly doing the right and square thing by the Gold Star Mothers. We were treated with respect and deference…on the whole a wonderful trip.” Many pilgrims expressed their admiration for the ABMC cemeteries. Mrs. Ettie M. Brown and Mrs. George Ingersoll visited the Saint-Mihiel American Cemetery and declared that “the cemetery is kept beautifully and we feel our sons have a lovely resting place.”
Through the Gold Star pilgrimages, women played a key role in the early commemorations at the ABMC cemeteries. The government recognized that these women served the nation through their losses, and acknowledged the importance of providing them with the opportunity to visit the overseas graves of their fallen family members. The ABMC mission during the Gold Star pilgrimages was the same as it is today: to maintain military cemeteries with honor so that the loved ones of the fallen can find solace in the dignified care of their eternal resting place.
Railroad Place renamed O’Brien Street in 1921 in honor of him
To read the entire NARA burial file, click HERE.
Private O’Brien is buried in Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, Rue du Général Pershing, 55110 Romagne-Sous-Montfaucon, France; Plot C, Row 30, Grave 2.