Hundreds turn out to mourn fallen Marine

Hundreds of community members  and veterans gathered to honor the memory of fallen U.S. marine and 2008 East Gaston High School graduate and killed while on patrol in Afghanistan.

A native of Stanley, 21-year-old Marine Lance Cpl. Nicholas O’Brien was killed by an improvised explosive device June 9, while on patrol in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 5th U.S. Marines, based in California. O’Brien and joined the Marine Corps in 2009. 

O’Brien’s flag-draped casket was brought to First Assembly of God in Gastonia in a procession that began at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. Crowds of people lined the route along Wilkinson Boulevard, waving American flags as it passed by. The motorcade was escorted by dozens of motorcycles from the Patriot Guard Riders, as well as fire engines and police vehicles.

The people who gathered on the First Assembly of God grounds and along South Myrtle School Road to show their support for O’Brien, his family and other American troops were a diverse group.

In addition to law enforcement officers and firefighters from across Gaston and Mecklenburg counties, other groups that came to pay respects to O’Brien included members of American Legion Posts 23, 30 and 48. O’Brien was a member of Post 23 and played baseball for its team. He gave up a baseball scholarship to join the Marines.

Ninety-nine-year-old Stanley resident Paulina Whare braved the heat while waiting for the motorcade to arrive.

“I had two sons serve in Vietnam,” Whare said. “We have to remember our soldiers.”

Despite threats of disruption by members of the controversial Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, Monday’s funeral for Marine Lance Cpl. Nicholas O’Brien was one of solemn dignity and patriotism. Members of the Patriot Guard Riders, a national motorcycle club formed in 2005 to protect military funerals from Westboro’s protests, showed up in case the group decided to make an appearance. 

Westboro Baptist has drawn attention to itself in recent years by appearing at military funerals displaying signs bearing inflammatory, hate-filled, slogans regarding U.S. soldiers killed in action.

No Westboro Baptist members appear to have attended O’Brien’s service, but several local residents turned out to support the family in case they did.

Marine veteran Eric Anderson, of Weddington, has two younger brothers serving in Afghanistan.

“O’Brien is a fellow Marine,” Anderson said. “It’s wrong to use this funeral as a stage to spew hate.”

Gastonia resident Victoria Mabry also turned out to support the O’Brien family from Westboro members.

“You want to hate them,” she said. “But you just have to pray for them.”

Patriot Guard Rider Randy Wilson rode from Danville, Va. to take part in the ceremony.

“O’Brien gave his life for this country,” Wilson said. “It’s proper we honor him and his family.”

The people who gathered on the First Assembly of God grounds and along South Myrtle School Road to show their support for O’Brien, his family, and other American troops were a diverse group.

The funeral service inside the First Assembly of God sanctuary was an emotional one. Hundreds of people packed the church for the service, which included a presentation that remembered O’Brien’s life. The Rev. George Sherman, from O’Brien’s home church Shady Brook Baptist, led the service, and U.S. Navy Reserve Chaplain Shawn Turpin, Chad Owens, one of O’Brien’s teachers at East Gaston High School and uncle Jeff Bright also made remarks.

O’Brien was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Tuesday June 28.

The same explosion that cost O’Brien his life also wounded his friend Lance Cpl. Josh Cawthorn, of Asheville, who is being treated at Bethesda Naval Hospital. The O’Brien family has requested that donations be sent to his family c/o Shady Brook Baptist Church, 2940 Belmeade Drive, Charlotte. q

Supporters lined the streets in Gastonia as Patriot Guard Riders escorted Marine Lance Cpl. Nicholas O’Brien’s flag-draped casket to First Assembly of God Church.

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