Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, August 11, 2014

Remembering a Veteran: Frank O'Brien, 128th Infantry, 32nd Division, AEF

Missing in Action

Pvt. Frank O'Brien

The grandson of Irish immigrants and seventh of 12 children, Frank O’Brien grew up on his family’s farm near Avoca, Wisconsin. He was drafted in November 1917 and, at the age of 28, joined the 128th Infantry Regiment of the 32nd division. He trained at Camp MacArthur in Waco, Texas, before going overseas in February 1918.

O’Brien saw action at the Second Battle of the Marne and the Battle of Soissons in the summer of 1918. At the end of August, the 32nd Division participated in the beginnings of the Oise-Aisne Campaign by seeking to push the Germans out of the City of Juvigny. Fierce fighting with heavy casualties took place before the 128th infantry was relieved from the front lines on 1 September. Following this action, O’Brien failed to report to his company. Less than a week later, his parents were informed that Frank O’Brien was missing in action.

More than half a year later, his parents received a letter in the mail from Walfred Lindstrom, an Army chaplain. As the 32nd Division withdrew from the front lines on 1 September 1918, Lindstrom spotted an unidentified American body. Intending to bury it the next day, he removed a ring and pocketbook from the body to protect them from looters. However, when he returned to the site the following day, Lindstrom found the body already buried. 
Chaplain Lindstrom
In the ensuing months, he searched for some clue that might help him identify the fallen American so that he could return the items to the family. Finally, in April 1919, after returning to the U.S., Lindstrom noticed “O’Brien” scribbled in very small letters on one of the francs from the pocketbook. He looked through the casualties from the battle near Juvigny, which led him to contact the parents of Frank O’Brien, describing the ring and asking them to identify it. They recognized their son’s ring from Lindstrom’s description.

Private Frank O’Brien was missing in action for over seven months before his remains were identified. He is buried in the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery and Memorial in France.

See more Doughboys honored at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum: 

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