Joseph James MacBrien DFC was born in Toronto, Ontario and in 1942, entered HMCS Royal Roads College, in Victoria BC, as a cadet. During WW 2 he served in the British and Australian warships in the Pacific and was navigating officer of HMCS Crescent during 1945-46.

In 1946 he began flying training and graduated a year later. He flew with a Sea Fury fighter squadron on board HMCS Magnificent and this was followed by advance courses in the UK.

In March 1952, MacBrien began his exchange tour with the United States Navy, eventually flying Panthers in Fighter Squadron 781 on board the USS Oriskany.

That carrier joined Task Force 77 off Korea’s east coast in November 1952. During the next six months, MacBrien flew 66 missions over Korea, about 50 of these being ground attack strikes against billeting areas, industrial centres, rail installations and power plants.

In December 1952, McBrien took part in the biggest carrier strike of the Korean War to that time, the planes hitting four large North Korean rail junctions, one of them on the Yalu River on the border of Communist China.

MacBrien was the first Royal Canadian Navy officer to receive the United States Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). It was awarded for his "extraordinary achievement" on February 1, 1953, while leading a flight of jet aircraft from the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany in an interdiction raid against a Communist supply, storage and warehouse area near the town of Pukchong on the vital enemy east coast supply route. His citation reads in part, as follows:

"Lieutenant McBrien led a flight of jet aircraft against an enemy supply storage and warehouse area near the town of Pukchong on the vital enemy east coast supply route. Despite marginal weather, which greatly hampered his flight, and intense enemy anti-aircraft fire, Lieut. MacBrien led repeated bombing and strafing runs, carrying his attack to minimum altitudes in order to effect maximum damage to the target.

Lieut. MacBrien personally accounted for five direct hits, which led to one secondary explosion, left two warehouse buildings burning and two warehouse buildings heavily damaged. His courageous leadership and outstanding demonstration of pilot skill so inspired his flight that damage assessment photos showed twelve warehouses and stockpiles of supplies burning. The daring and devotion to duty exhibited by Lieut. MacBrien, without regard to his own personal safety, materially aided the United Nations interdiction efforts against the enemy."

McBrien returned to Canada in the summer of 1953 and subsequently took a Royal Navy staff course in the UK. In 1954, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Commander.