Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Rossell G. O'Brien Started An American Tradition

His name is Rossell Galbraith O'Brien. He was a U.S. Army 2nd Lieutenant during the Civil War and later rose to the rank of Brigadier General. He is buried in Oakland California's Mountain View Cemetery. Actually, he is Plot 6 of that cemetery.

What American tradition did he start? Believe it or not, he is the man who originated the custom of standing during the rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner

O'Brien was elected the 15th Mayor of Olympia, Washington, in 1891.

According to the Washington National Guard Pamphlet: "General O'Brien was born in Ireland in l846. He first entered the military service as a private in the Ellsworth Zouaves (Governor's Guard) of Chicago in 1862, serving until 28 April 1864 when he enlisted in Co. D, 134th Illinois Volunteer regiment. He was appointed 2nd Lieut. in this regiment on May 31, 1864, and served with this regiment in the Summer campaigns in Kentucky until Sept. 1864. He was then ordered to St. Louis with this regiment and served in the campaign against the rebel General Price in Missouri. He was honorably mustered out of the Volunteer service on October 25, 1864. He served as a First Lieut. of the Governor's Guards of Chicago from 1865 to 1870 when he came to Washington Territory with newly appointed Governor Edward S. Saloman. 

He was appointed Deputy Collector of Internal Revenue in 1871 and later served as Chief Clerk of the House of Representatives of the Legislative Assembly. He served on the City Council of Olympia from 1886 to 1888 and as Mayor in 1891. In the meantime, he served as Clerk of the Supreme Court and as Quartermaster and Adjutant General of the Territorial Militia from 1880 to 1895 when he was placed on the retired list. He is credited with being the "Father" of the National Guard in Washington."


Later, when the Star-Spangled Banner was first recognized as our National Anthem by law in 1931, there was no prescription as to behavior during its playing. During World War II, the law was revised directing those in uniform should salute during its playing, while others should simply stand at attention, men removing their hats. The same code also required that women should place their hands over their hearts when the flag is displayed during the playing of the national anthem, but not if the flag was not present. 

Later, during World War II, the law was revised again. This time it "instructed men and women to stand at attention and face in the direction of the music when it was played. That revision also directed men and women to place their hands over their hearts only if the flag was displayed." Of course, as with military protocol, those in uniform were required to salute. 

"On July 7, 1976, the law was simplified. Men and women were instructed to stand with their hands over their hearts, men removing their hats, irrespective of whether or not the flag was displayed and those in uniform saluting. 

On August 12, 1998, the law was rewritten keeping the same instructions, but differentiating between "those in uniform" and "members of the Armed Forces and veterans" who were both instructed to salute during the playing whether or not the flag was displayed." It is said that after 9/11, our custom of placing our hand over our heart "during the playing of the national anthem became nearly universal."

In 2008, the law was amended to instruct all members of our Armed Forces and military veterans to salute even when out of uniform. Their salute should be rendered at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until the last note. 

While failure to follow the suggestions is not a violation of the law, some will take it as a sign of disrespect to our nation, those who have died to keep us free, and those serving today.

I hope you found that interesting.

Tom Correa


  1. It is very interesting, and a good subject; an unexpected subject! Thank you for informing us, because the more we know about patriotism and our American history, the more truth we know with which to live America's future best.

  2. Well, at least I know ONE thing people don't need to be on their knees for. LOL I meant the anthem. Get your mind out of the gutter.


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