‘What’s under the ground can tell a story’: East Providence man hopes to return long-lost plaque to Marine’s family

Street Stories

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Justin Bourassa has been walking the Crescent Park shoreline for years with his trusty metal detector.

But the East Providence resident never expected to uncover a piece of history.

Five years ago, Bourassa stumbled upon a military plaque while walking along the sandbar during low tide.

It was dedicated to John T. O’Brien, describing him as “the greatest and toughest Marine to ever live.”

For Bourassa, who comes from a military family, the discovery hit close to home.

“It almost brought me to tears,” he recalled. “I almost started crying because it was Veterans Day when I found it. I pulled it out and started reading it … it was unbelievable.”

While he isn’t certain, Bourassa has a couple of ideas as to where the plaque came from.

“It looks like a bench plaque, or off a boat,” he said. “But more than likely it came off a bench from a storm. The bench fell into the water, it eroded, and that was it.”

Even though this isn’t the only memorable item he’s found buried in the sand, it’s certainly the one that’s stuck with him the most.

“I was in a magazine once for finding an Indian Head penny from 1877 … but the most interesting thing I found was this plaque,” he said.

Bourassa said his goal is to not only return the plaque to the Marine’s family, but also learn more about the man behind it.

“Where he was, where he went,” Bourassa said. “If he’s from Rhode Island and where [the plaque] actually came from.”

“What’s under the ground can tell a story, so with John T. O’Brien, I feel the plaque is part of his story and it really deserves to be told,” he added.

Ever since Bourassa uncovered the plaque, he’s always wondered what it would be like to finally meet the Marine’s family.

“I feel like I would cry because I’m an emotional guy,” he said. “But it would make me feel really good to be able to give it to his family, and that’s the main reason why I keep posting about it [on social media] … I really want to find the family because they deserve it.”

If you think you may know John T. O’Brien’s family, contact 12 News via ReportIt! by emailing reportit@wpri.com, or send a message to Street Stories on Twitter or Facebook.

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