Volunteers support procession of LCprl. O’Brien

Hundreds turned out for the return of Lance Corporal Nicholas S. O'Brien at Wilson Air Center at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport Monday. O'Brien, 21 will be buried next week at Arlington National Cemetery. Todd Sumlin - tsumlin@charlotteobserver.com

On Monday, June 20, volunteers from the American Red Cross had the honor to serve Lance Corporal Nicholas O’Brien, a 21-year-old Marine who died on June 9th serving his country in Afghanistan.  Hours before LCpl. O’Brien was scheduled to land, Patriot Guards started lining up in preparation to escort him from the Wilson Air Center in Charlotte to First Assembly Church of God on Myrtle Road in Gastonia. 

As temperatures rose to 96 degrees, the American Red Cross provided water and snacks to the Patriot Guard, who stood guard as the body of LCpl. O’Brien was flown into Charlotte.  Red Cross volunteers made chicken sandwiches and made sure there was enough food to feed 300 people.

Red Cross volunteers prepare food for the Patriot Guard

“It was a wonderful day,” said Margaret Royster, who works with Red Cross Services to the Armed Forces. Royster said board members passed out flags in front of the Red Cross building before the motorcade came through.

Red Cross volunteers then provided the funeral procession an escort to the First Assembly Church of God in Gastonia.

Robin Callahan, who works with Red Cross Services to the Armed Forces, said, “It was hard to keep the emotions at bay seeing that in town after town we went through, fire departments, police departments, EMS and other Emergency Services provided a clear path for the mile-long escort.”

American and Marine Corps flags were flown from bridges and off fire trucks. Callahan said that even local power companies had their trucks out with the arm raised and American flags draping over the road so the funeral procession could drive under the flags.

“As the American Red Cross followed behind the Patriot Guard, we could see hundreds if not thousands of local citizens lining the streets to pay their respect,” Callahan said.  Children were waving American flags, store owners closed shops and many workers were still in their work uniforms as they stood by the edge of the street. Oncoming cars had stopped and drivers stepped out of their cars. Many stood at attention or were saluting as the funeral procession passed.

The American Red Cross continued serving the family of LCpl. O’Brien by providing water stations and providing volunteers to distribute and serve food during the visitation for the family.

“We were honored to be able to support the procession,” Callahan said. “I’ll never forget it.”

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