The President of the United States
in the name of The Congress
takes pleasure in presenting the
Medal of Honor
*O'BRIEN, WILLIAM J.
Rank and Organization: Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army, 1st Battalion, 105th
Infantry, 27th Infantry Division. Place and Date At Saipan, Marianas Islands, 20
June through 7 July 1944. Entered Service at: Troy, N.Y. Birth: Troy, N.Y. G.O.
No.: 35, 9 May 1945.
Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the
risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty at Saipan, Marianas Islands, from 20
June through 7 July 1944. When assault elements of his platoon were held up by intense
enemy fire, Lt. Col. O'Brien ordered 3 tanks to precede the assault companies in an
attempt to knock out the strongpoint. Due to direct enemy fire the tanks' turrets were
closed, causing the tanks to lose direction and to fire into our own troops. Lt. Col.
O'Brien, with complete disregard for his own safety, dashed into full view of the enemy
and ran to the leader's tank, and pounded on the tank with his pistol butt to attract 2 of
the tank's crew and, mounting the tank fully exposed to enemy fire, Lt. Col. O'Brien
personally directed the assault until the enemy strongpoint had been liquidated. On 28
June 1944, while his platoon was attempting to take a bitterly defended high ridge in the
vicinity of Donnay, Lt. Col. O'Brien arranged to capture the ridge by a double envelopment
movement of 2 large combat battalions. He personally took control of the maneuver. Lt.
Col. O'Brien crossed 1,200 yards of sniper-infested underbrush alone to arrive at a point
where 1 of his platoons was being held up by the enemy. Leaving some men to contain the
enemy he personally led 4 men into a narrow ravine behind, and killed or drove off all the
Japanese manning that strongpoint. In this action he captured S machineguns and one 77-mm.
fieldpiece. Lt. Col. O'Brien then organized the 2 platoons for night defense and against
repeated counterattacks directed them. Meanwhile he managed to hold ground. On 7 July 1944
his battalion and another battalion were attacked by an overwhelming enemy force estimated
at between 3,000 and 5,000 Japanese. With bloody hand-to-hand fighting in progress
everywhere, their forward positions were finally overrun by the sheer weight of the enemy
numbers. With many casualties and ammunition running low, Lt. Col. O'Brien refused to
leave the front lines. Striding up and down the lines, he fired at the enemy with a pistol
in each hand and his presence there bolstered the spirits of the men, encouraged them in
their fight and sustained them in their heroic stand. Even after he was seriously wounded,
Lt. Col. O'Brien refused to be evacuated and after his pistol ammunition was exhausted, he
manned a .50 caliber machinegun, mounted on a jeep, and continued firing. When last seen
alive he was standing upright firing into the Jap hordes that were then enveloping him.
Some time later his body was found surrounded by enemy he had killed His valor was
consistent with the highest traditions of the service.