For Immediate Release
February 2, 2011
The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md.
(240) 228-5113 or (443) 778-5113
Cyril John O'Brien, career journalist, oldest known living Marine Corps war correspondent, and former media relations head at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, died January 31 at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Md., from natural causes associated with coronary heart disease. He was 92.
Born January 30, 1919, in St. John's Newfoundland, Canada, Mr. O'Brien grew up in Camden, NJ, and began his journalistic career as a court and police reporter for Camden's Courier-Post newspaper.
In 1942, he joined the Marine Corps, serving first as an infantry scout and then as a combat correspondent. His bylined stories described the fierce fighting in the Pacific campaigns of Bougainville and Guadalcanal, as well as the U.S. invasion of Guam, and earned him acclaim by Adm. Chester W. Nimitz. As a roving reporter with the 3rd Marine Regiment on Guam, Mr. O'Brien watched the raising of the American flag on Mount Suribachi from the beach of Iwo Jima. His articles on critical war events were transmitted by the Associated Press, United Press International, and International News services to publications and broadcast networks around the world.
Following the war he left the service with the rank of sergeant and returned to the Camden Courier-Post, later becoming a feature writer for the Long Island Press in New York and then the Stroudsburg Record in Pennsylvania. He also served as a columnist for two New Jersey papers, the Trentonian and the Times-Journal of Vineland, N.J. In 1948, Mr. O'Brien moved to the Washington DC area as a congressional correspondent for the Erwin (Texas) News Service.
In 1949, he began a 34-year career at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, leading its public and media relations group. His ability to present complex technical subjects in plain language helped secure worldwide media coverage for APL programs such as the Transit satellite navigation system, the Aegis ballistic missile program and APL-built satellites that took the first images from space of the curvature of the Earth and the first color pictures from space of the whole Earth. He covered the first launches of the Navy Navigation Satellite System from Cape Canaveral and landmark AEGIS weapons system missile firings from a Navy ship in the Pacific. "Cy was a tireless newsman who was extremely dedicated to the Laboratory and to the work that we were doing to keep our nation safe," says APL Director Ralph Semmel. "He was a consummate patriot and journalist who left his mark on APL, and he will be sorely missed."
Don Knight, a longtime friend of Mr. O'Brien and a fellow Marine Corps combat correspondent, wrote in a recent Marine Corps publication remembrance: "We were fortunate to know this great American for what he really was: a good man, with a strong heart, compassion for his fellow American, especially for his fellow Marines."
Mr. O'Brien was featured in the Newseum's war correspondents exhibit in a video interview of his experiences. (http://www.newseum.org/warstories/interviews/mov/journalists/bio.asp?id=31). Last year the Guam legislature passed a resolution commending Mr. O'Brien for his "sacrifice and service" to the people of Guam, that also referenced two of his books: one on Guam, "Liberation", and another, "Two Score and Ten" that includes many anecdotes from the 3rd Marine Division in Guam. During the Korean Conflict he joined the Marine Corps Reserves, which he left in 1963 having earned the rank of captain and the Marine's Sibi Non Patri Award to honor his service.
Since retiring from APL in 1983, Mr. O'Brien helped organize more than a dozen trips for veterans returning to Guam, New Zealand, the Solomon Islands, and other WWII sites. In 2008, he delivered the keynote address at the rededication of the War in the Pacific National Historical Park in Guam, which commemorates the bravery and sacrifices of those who participated in the campaigns of the Pacific theater in World War II. His last speech – delivered July 5, 2010, to fellow senior citizens in his Silver Spring (Md.) retirement community – covered a subject dear to his heart: the Marine Corps, tracing the legacy of the Marines from his era through the brave soldiers serving today in Afghanistan.
Mr. O'Brien was an active community member, serving as historian for the New Jersey State Society in the late 1960s and on the Montgomery County Maryland's Bicentennial Commission in 1976. He was president of the Montgomery County Press Association in the early 1970s and of the Mid Atlantic Association of Industrial Editors from 1960-61. In 1960, he was named the MAAIE's "Editor of the Year". He was a longtime member of the National Press Club (more than 62 years), the American Newspaper Guild, and the White House Correspondents Association, and was listed in Who's Who in the East and the St. James Directory of British and American Writers.
Mr. O'Brien earned a B.S. in English (1942) from St. Joseph's College in Philadelphia and later an M.S. in communications (1965) from American University in Washington, D.C.
His wife of 25 years, Elizabeth R. O'Brien, died in 1975. He is survived by a son, Anthony O'Brien of Frederick, Md.; three daughters: Bridget Turow and Patricia Cahill of Silver Spring, Md., and Johnine Meehan of Downingtown, Pa.; and seven grandchildren.
Relatives and friends may call at Collins Funeral Home (301-593-9500), 500 University Boulevard, West, Silver Spring, MD, Thursday, 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. Mass of Christian Burial at St. Bernadette's Church, 72 University Blvd. East, Silver Spring, MD 20901, on Friday, February 4 at 10:30 a.m. Interment Gate of Heaven Cemetery. Memorial contributions may be made to Holy Name Society at St. Bernadette's or Iwo Jima Association of America, P.O. Box 680, Quantico, VA 22134.
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The Applied Physics Laboratory, a division of The Johns Hopkins University, meets critical national challenges through the innovative application of science and technology. For more information, visit www.jhuapl.edu