BRIDGEPORT, Pa. — During the 2019 Memorial Day Weekend, the Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) will highlight water polo athletes who served their country during time of war.
First on the list is United States Navy Rear Admiral Emmet O’Beirne.
Born in New Orleans, La., O’Beirne and his parents moved to Elgin, Ill. when he was an infant. It was there he attended public schools and completed high school in 1925. After a year at Severn School, a prep school in Maryland, O’Beirne entered the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
At Annapolis, he was on both the swimming and water polo teams. During his first class year, he was captain of the varsity water polo team and a midshipman company commander. Upon graduation from Annapolis in 1930, he was commissioned an ensign in the U.S. Navy and completed flight training at Pensacola, Fla., to become a naval aviator.
He then served in several aircraft squadrons and aircraft carriers, attended the Naval Postgraduate School and spent a graduate year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he earned a Masters degree in Aeronautical Engineering.
O’Beirne was executive officer of Patrol Squadron 21 based at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked in 1941. A few months later, he flew to Australia with the squadron but soon after his arrival was assigned as Executive Officer on the staff of Rear Admiral Daniel Callaghan on the cruiser USS San Francisco.
During the battle of Guadalcanal, the San Francisco came under heavy Japanese gunfire. Every person on the flag bridge and the admiral were killed except for O’Beirne due to a direct hit from a Japanese battleship. A monument to the crew of the USS San Francisco (including part of the ship’s bridge) stands today in Lands End, San Francisco.
After a long hospitalization with severe wounds, O’Beirne returned to the Western Pacific as executive officer of the aircraft carrier USS Sangamon only to have ship hit by a Japanese kamikaze attack in May 1945 and knocked out of the war for the remaining months.
After World War II, O’Beime participated in the Korean War as commanding officer of another aircraft carrier, USS Bairoko. He later commanded the carrier USS Yorktown and the Naval Air Station Pensacola.
After promotion to Rear Admiral, he commanded Carrier Division 20 and the Field Command, Defense Atomic Support Agency in Albuquerque, N.M. On December 1, 1964, he retired from active duly as a Rear Admiral.
During his wartime service, O’Beirne received the Navy Cross, two Legion of Merits, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Presidential Unit Citation and the World War II, Korean and U.N. service medals plus numerous letters of commendation and Pacific campaign ribbons.
He passed away at the Coronado Convalescent Hospital in Coronado, Calif., in July 1990 at the age of 82.