Knowing What You're Afraid of is Half the Battle .pdf
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Franklin police chief O'Brien
TIDEWATER NEWS, Thursday, February 10, 1977 3
`Knowing what you're afraid
By KATHY O'HARA
TN Staff Writer
FRANKLIN-Extraordinary people are not always
found solely in Hollywood, Washington D, C., or the
Guiness Book of World Records.
They're everywhere. Even small communities have
their share and one of Franklin's is its chief of
police William O'Brien.
A native of Berryville, he has been a resident of
Franklin for approximately 29 years.
After four years as chief of police his is a familiar face.
O'Brien the public servant is largely a man shaped
by five years as a World War II sergeant in the Army
and 27 as a Virginia state trooper.
Hanging in his office are framed mementos of his two
previous careers. One, a small inconspicous award
labeled "D-Day to Saint St. Lo", is a silent reminder
of a more troubled turbulent time in world history.
"I was a platoon sergeant with the 29th Division
when we assaulted Omaha Beach on D-Day. The
battle was so intense and the casualties so many
that most of our men didn't make it to St. Lo, our
initial destination. Those who did make it were
awarded this certificate," he explains.
O'Brien, a veteran of Army campaigns in Normandy, Northern France, the Rhineland and Central
Europe, refuses to accept a hero's label although he
was awarded the silver star, the nation's third highest military award, the bronze star, the French Corix de Guerre and the Belgium Corix de Guerre.
He smiles gently at questions about fear during
battle and admits a large part of the time he was
"You're never at ease in war. After heavy fire
you can sit back and say 'Man, that was close'.
It teaches you to live with fear. After all if you know
what you're afraid of that's half of the battle," he
The story behind O'Brien's award of the silver star
is, without any attempt at dramatization, like a John
Wayne movie void of flourishes and empty rhetoric.
"I hate to have this put in the paper. People will
think I'm bragging," he prefaces his tale.
However prodded unmercifully by a reporter mindful
of vehement accusations that journalists only print
the bad not the good, he continues.
"Well, a few days after D-Day our platoon officer
was shot and killed by Germans which left me in
The walls of Franklin police chief William O'Brien's
office are decorated with many reminders of a lifetime
of community service.
charge. Under orders from headquarters, I took my
platoon out in front of the infantry to scout around
and send them back information.
"You seta, in .France the 29th Division had broken
the back of the Germans so headquarters wanted us
to verify there were no more within 20 miles of us
so the infantry could either motorize or walk."
He leans back in his seat getting into his story
HOW MANY GERMANS?
"After we had gone about 1Z miles I began to sense
we were coming in contact with the enemy. There
was no firing, but we could see signs of disorderly
retreat. I pulled my platoon into a wooded area,
chose two section sergeants and the three of us set
out on foot patrol."
He continues, "Within a mile we could sight the
Germans through binoculars digging in. As we got
closer we could see there was a large number of
them. We sneaked to a high hedge and observed them
about a 100 feet on the other 'side."
Here he stops and chuckles like a man rembei: ingsomethlpadbusiqtehmor,
"One sergeant asked me 'How many do you suppose
there are? and I said 'Well, the only way to find out
10 TIDEWATER NEWS, Thursday, February 10, 1977
of is half the battle.'
to return to our troops. I was taken back to where I
had left the other two sergeants.
"Before we left the German lieutenant who released
us gave me the 'Heil, Hitler' a salute. 1 returned
with the American salute."
When O'Brien and his comrades returned, their
escape was met with incredulity from their superiors.
However, the end result was an awed commendation
from General C. H. Gerhardt, but most important
of all, the defeat of the German troops was made
possible by the trio's information.
O'Briend insists his service in the Army complemented his service in the State Police.
"One big danger a state trooper faces, especially
in a rural area is working alone. When you pull a
car you never know if the person in it is coming home
from choir practice or has just robbed a bank. The
only thing you can do is accept this as part of your
LAW ENFORCEMENT CAREER
"I have a lot of report writing to do in this job.
Sometimes it seems like paperwork is all you do in
life," O'Brien laughs.
is go up and ask'.
"He, of course, was shocked. He said, 'What do
you mean go up and ask them'. I promptly explained
the first question the General would ask me would be
`How many are there?' I offered to go to by myself
but of course they refused."
Naturally, most good plans have their interupptions
and O'Brien's was no exception.
"We looked up and a French woman, used as a maid
by the Germans, was approaching us. One sergeant
grabbed her and we all explained in broken German
and French she'd be 'kaput' if she revealed us. We
allowed her to walk through the gate. She didn't
tell on us."
O'Brien and his two friends finally revealed themselves. With a white handkerchief tied on a stick
they walked in the midst of the German camp.
Miraculously they were spared. O'Brien told the
Germans they were surrounded and asked them to
surrender. He was immediately blindfolded and then
taken to the commander.
. "I repeated the request to him. He answered by
reassuring me his intelligence report showed him we
were the only three Americans within 12 miles of there.
"He told me that my friends and I would be allowed
O'Brien became Franklin's chief of police in December of 1972. He characterizes the change from
state to city official as one of "180 degrees difference".
"State Police are more remote while city policemen are more a part of the community. Most of our
city cases are domestic ones. People feel more free
to call on us," he explains.
Among the other mementos decorating his office
wall is a plaque of recognition for his service in the
National Guard (he retired in with the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1974) and a 1974 diploma from
Paul D. Camp Community College engraved summa
"The department really encourages our men to take
law enforcement courses at the college. How could I
ask my men to do something I wasn't doing?" he
In his spare time O'Brien teaches an adult Bible
class at Hunterdale Christian Church. He also
claims to find a little time for playing golf."
"If I golf in the low 90's I feel like I've had a good
day," he laughs.
He admits to a fondness of flowers and woodworking. "I raise azaleas and English boxwoods. I also
have a woodworking shop in my home that, like
gardening, helps me relax. I just recently handcrafted a Grandfather's clock," he beams proudly.
He and his wife, the former Anne Daughtrey of
Franklin, live on Magnolia Avenue in Franklin.
O'Brien, an obviously happy, successful individual,
conceded there is no easy formula for coping with
WORDS TO LIVE BY
However, his personal philosophy characteristically
moves in that direction. "If you're going to do
something, do it right. If you don't have the time
don't do it. You've always got to do your best."