Warriors’ Watch Riders cyclist Tom O’Brien III was always doing something for others, especially those who have served the country or their community.
At least once a week the disabled veteran rode in a motorcycle cavalcade either to welcome a returning veteran, in a funeral procession for first responders or in other military-related honor parades and fundraising runs in South Jersey and beyond. But on Thursday and Friday this week, the Warriors’ Watch Riders will be riding to honor him.
As the 59-year-old O’Brien was preparing to ride his three-wheeled motorcycle to Mays Landing on Saturday to welcome home a fellow veteran from prison duty at Guantanamo, Cuba, he was involved in an accident with a car on the Black Horse Pike in Haddon Heights. He died the next day on Easter Sunday at Cooper University Hospital in Camden.
“Once I got him into the group, I could not stop him. He wanted to go to every Warriors’ Watch mission he could make. He was committed and got a lot of joy from it,” recalled good friend and Warriors’ Watch Riders member Syd Breidenbach. “He was a big teddy bear who would do anything for everybody. Everyone took a liking to him and we took a liking to each other right away.”
Before 6 p.m. Thursday, the riders formed a flag line outside the Lewis Funeral Home on Main Street in Moorestown for his viewing to remember their compatriot. On Friday morning motorcycles escorted his body, his family and friends from the funeral home to Christ Our Light Roman Catholic Church in Cherry Hill for a 10 a.m. Mass of Christian Burial.
The Camden County Prosecutor’s Office is investigating the accident and declined comment. No charges had been brought as of Wednesday against the other driver, whose name was not immediately available from authorities.
Family members said they were told by police a woman driving southbound on the pike was making a left turn into the northbound lanes where O’Brien was operating his motorcycle and that after the collision he struck a utility pole along the pike.
On that pole near Bryn Mawr Avenue and the Philly Pretzel shop, family members placed a photo of O’Brien, who sported a beard down to his chest and who was better known as “Obie” to many. Underneath the photo they wrote, “May your angels always ride with you,” and mounted an anchor signifying his service in the U.S. Navy after graduating in the Class of 1975 from Camden County Vocational School.
Tony Meade of Gibbstown, Warriors’ Watch Riders State Coordinator, praised O’Brien’s passion and said his death has been upsetting for members, whom he expects will turn out in force to honor one of their own.
One of the recent Warriors’ events he participated in was the March 10 candlelight vigil for New Jersey Trooper Sean Cullen of Cinnaminson, who died after being struck by a passing motorist at the scene of an accident on Interstate 295 in Deptford. Last week he was in Delaware honoring a veteran.
Breidenbach said O’Brien took time off from his job at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia one day last year because he wanted to ride in the memorial run honoring a city police officer killed while buying a present to reward his son for good grades.
His buddy said he and some of the dozens of Warriors’ riders who rushed to the hospital last weekend were able to say goodbye to their unconscious comrade before he died. The family said O’Brien suffered head and other injuries.
“In 28 days he was going to retire from the mint and was so looking forward to it so he could do more for the VFW, the Warriors’ Watch and Toys for Tots,” said Joann Schuman, of Maple Shade, one of his three sisters. A former worker at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, he worked as a material maintenance expeditor at the mint.
Besides his commitment to the Warriors’ Watch, every year O’Brien was a right jolly elf, playing Santa for VFW Post 3324 of Runnemede , where he was a member. He also visited homes of family and friends as Santa on Christmas Eve to entertain children. “He would do anything for anybody. If a stranger walked in, he would introduce himself and start up a conversation. He loved people,” his sister said.
O’Brien is survived by his wife, Evelyn; daughters Nali and Rani O’Brien; father Thomas and two other sisters, Margaret “Peggy” Mitchell of Maple Shade and Karen Kling of Hainesport.
Story courtesy of the Courier Post newspaper