Robert Gregory O'Brien
Bob was born in New York City March 26, 1921. His father was Irish and arrived in the US in 1902. His mother was born in New York to Irish immigrants. 1940 census shows that the eighth grade was the highest level of education that he completed and that he was employed as a shipping clerk at a jewelry store. His 1942 draft card lists his employer as N. H. White & Company, a diamond, watch, and jewelry store, in Manhattan. Bob enlisted in the Air Corps as a private on March 21, 1942 and served until he was called for aviation cadet training. Bob earned his wings and was promoted to 2nd Lt on 16 Feb 1943 at Marianna Army Air Field, FL class 43-B. In his graduation class was Carlton Covey, who would join the 118th in China and go missing in action. He joined the 118th stateside and left with the squadron for the CBI theater in January 1944.
Bob's first taste of combat was in June 1944 as he flew two missions out of Kweilin. The pace picked up in July and he flew about fifteen missions. 06 Aug 1944, would be another busy day for the 118th as they would fly four missions. Gee lead the third mission of the day which consisted of eight P-40s off at 1035 on a three hour mission to bomb and strafe targets of opportunity in the Hengyang area. They returned at 1320. Gee would also lead the fourth mission of the day. This mission, #119, took off less than three hours after the prior mission ended. Gee would again lead eight P-40s to Hengyang to hit targets of opportunity. O'Brien was on both of the missions.
Weather and darkness would create a difficult return for the flight. Major Jones was homed by the directional finder at Yangton Field (Kweilin) and led the remaining seven ships to the airfield. Watts left the formation earlier due to a rough engine and would bailout and return to the squadron. Jones gave the pilots the option to remain in formation or trail. Once over the airfield, Jones descended through the initial overcast at 10,000' and broke out at 8,000'. After initial let down, Gee, O' Brien, and Swanson were not seen. The second layer of overcast was from 6500' to 5000'. When Jones broke out of the second overcast, he was over Kweilin and told the others to let down. Ray Darby noticed two fires burning as he descended through the overcast. The following morning it was determined that the fires he had seen were the crashes of two of the P-40s. In an interview with the Hartford Courant in 1994, Robert Begley said the following about the search for the missing planes the next morning: "We had no trouble finding the missing flight, still in formation, embedded in the side of a nearby mountain. O'Brien, Gee and Swanson would be the squadron's first losses in China.
Bob is buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl National Cemetery) in Honolulu, HI.