BY LEANN DILBECK –
Petty Officer Robert Roland Williford, Motor Machinist Mate 3rd Class in the U.S. Navy was given an honorable military memorial service courtesy of Beasley-Wood Funeral Home last Friday.
Beasley-Wood had been entrusted with medals that had recently been discovered and thus, began their own research into Williford, the medals, and to identify the closest living relatives. The discovery was published in local media and it was Pulse readers learning of the discovery on MyPulseNews.com that produced several promising leads.
Williford’s name is engraved on each of the five medals, including the Purple Heart, which is awarded for “unusual gallantry” and “extraordinary fidelity and essential service.” Among the collection of medals are the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, the WWII Navy Good Conduct Medal, and the American Campaign Medal.
While none of the relatives the search has uncovered were able to attend the Memorial Service given by Beasley-Wood, Williford was among his fellow brothers and sisters in the armed forces. The local VFW, Auxiliary, and members of the Patriot Guard Riders along with other veterans were among those who attended Friday’s services to respectfully pay tribute to a man who gave his life for his country aboard the USS Scorpion submarine in the East China Sea.
Full military honors were rendered and somberness filled the chapel of Beasley-Wood as Taps played followed by a 21-gun salute. While Williford was a stranger to all, his sacrifice deeply moved all in attendance.
Until the CLOSEST living relative can be determined, Williford’s flag and medals have been surrendered to Arkansas State Captain, Patriot Guard Rider Mark Taylor, who volunteers aboard the USS Razorback where Williford’s decorations will be displayed. Taylor was in attendance Friday and commended Beasley-Wood for their efforts to provide an honorable memorial service to Williford.
VFW member David Spurgin and American Legion Commander and retired US Navy CAPT Bob Young conducted the services. While very little was known of Williford, Young who had conducted his own research into the USS Scorpion which painted a very vivid picture of the conditions that Williford served under that provided insight into his character to volunteer for submarine service.
The following is an excerpt from the eulogy provided by Young:
“After just 11 days for restocking, arming and new crew assignments, Scorpion departed on her first war patrol. Practice emergency dives were conducted daily until the boat could be totally submerged in 30-35 seconds.
Following a two week transit to Japanese waters, Scorpion planted a minefield in enemy coastal shipping lanes as ordered. In just 9 days, she sank a gunboat, destroyed sampans in surface actions, sank a merchant vessel and two other combat vessels. A Japanese destroyer dropped depth charges following the attack on the merchantman. During the fight with the last combat vessel, Scorpion’s prospective Commanding Officer was killed while firing an automatic rifle from the conning tower. Immediately following that combat action, a Japanese aircraft dropped depth charges but Scorpion successfully evaded and returned to Pearl Harbor on May 8, 1943. This patrol lasted 33 days.
Three weeks later, Scorpion departed on her second war patrol. Patrolling the Yellow Sea, on July 3, Scorpion attacked a five-freighter convoy with torpedoes. Japanese escort ships immediately commenced a depth charge attack. Scorpion settled on the bottom in only 150 feet. The Captain ordered “all stop” so the screws would not stir up mud that could be spotted by surface ships. While on the bottom, two depth charges exploded close aboard causing extensive hull damage. Five more depth charges exploded nearby. Japanese escort ships drug chains on the bottom hoping to hear metal contact for target location. Two minutes after the final depth charge, a chain clanged against Scorpion’s hull. Two minutes later another chain rattled across the deck. Scorpion’s Captain, in his words of classic understatement, described this area as an “unhealthy spot” and immediately began evasive maneuvering. This continued for the next hour until coming to periscope depth to verify the Japanese destroyer was no longer in close contact.
As a result of Scorpion’s initial attack on the convoy, five torpedoes hit targets, sinking a freighter and a passenger-cargo ship.
Limping home due to battle damage, Scorpion survived a bomber attack before arriving in Pearl Harbor on July 26 for retrofit and damage repair.
Just six weeks later, on October 13, Scorpion began her third war patrol. Patrolling off the Marianas Islands, she struck an uncharted pinnacle but did not receive significant damage. Due to a faulty radar and inclement weather, Scorpion was not able to complete attacks on two prize contacts.
On November 13, Scorpion fired torpedoes at a freighter and tanker escorted by three warships. The oiler was hit and went dead in the water. One escort commenced a depth charge attack but broke off the attack to return to the stricken oiler. Scorpion returned to pearl Harbor on December 5, 1943. She was not credited with a successful combat patrol because the sinking of the oiler could not be confirmed.
The fourth patrol commenced on December 29. Scorpion was last sighted by the USS Herring on January 5. Scorpion was never heard from again and was declared lost on March 6, 1944, 18-months after commissioning.
The USS Scorpion was awarded three battle stars. She was one of 20 boats of her class lost in combat in World War II.”
In the conclusion, Young led the traditional prayer read for a burial of the dead at sea:
“We, therefore, commit his body to the deep, looking for the general Resurrection in the last day, and the life of the world to come, through our Lord Jesus Christ; at whose second coming in glorious majesty to judge the world, the sea shall give up her dead; and the corruptible bodies of those who sleep in him shall be changed, and made like unto his glorious body; according to the mighty working whereby he is able to subdue all things undo himself.”