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Navy veteran receives final wish to tour naval ship


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    BAY CITY, Michigan (WNEM) — A local Navy veteran lived out his final wish, thanks to the quick work of his hospice care facility.

The 91-year-old Gladwin man, who is a decorated veteran, said he always wanted to step foot on a ship one more time, specifically the U.S.S. Edson docked in Bay City.

The first time Bill O’Brien wanted to board a warship, he joined the Navy. That was during the Korean War. He shipped out two days after finishing officer training at Holy Cross College.

The Navy paid for his four-year degree to become an officer. O’Brien eventually became a commander and started as the third deck supervisor of his naval destroyer ship.

“This destroyer was a lot more comfortable than the destroyer I was on. This is just the lap of luxury,” O’Brien said.

Now, a hospice patient, O’Brien went back onboard a Navy ship on April 6. He toured the U.S.S. Edson docked at the Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum in Bay City. The 91-year-old’s request to get on a ship one more time initiated a wave of work to make it happen.

“Once I got here and got the feel of it and the love of it came back, I thought it was absolutely wonderful. And it’s a big spark in my life and will probably keep me awake every night dreaming about it,” O’Brien said.

The museum and others moved by O’Brien’s service and simple request filled it in the most exquisite way. A limo, donated by MidMichigan Limousine Services in Midland, picked O’Brien and his wife up at their home in Gladwin. They cruised to the ship in style for a grand private tour with multiple COVID-19 mitigation measures in place.

The veteran was also treated to a free lunch donated by Coonan’s Irish Pub and a special pinning ceremony to thank him and recognize him for his service.

An officer over a fleet of small ships taking Marines to shore, O’Brien also served in the reserves for 37 years. He was instrumental in setting up bases in Michigan.

Getting O’Brien onto his first ship may have taken less than the generous, multi-faceted, gargantuan efforts to get him onto his last. But many people came together without hesitation to fulfill his wishes.

“It’s like it brings to life the guys I’ve been visiting every year on Memorial Day because I felt that if I didn’t remember them, nobody would. Y’know? And when I see something like this, I think that it’s not true. That the world does remember the guys who served on these ships,” O’Brien said.

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