Robert W. Copeland
Robert Witcher Copeland
Robert W. Copeland circa 1944
|Born||September 9, 1910|
|Died||August 25, 1973 (aged 62)|
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/||United States Naval Reserve|
|Commands held||Samuel B. Roberts (DE-413)|
|Battles/wars||Battle off Samar|
|Awards||Navy Cross Philippine Liberation Medal|
Copeland was born in Tacoma, Washington. Enlisted in the Naval Reserve in 1929, he was commissioned as a Naval Reserve officer in 1935. Copeland practiced law from 1935 until 1940, when he was ordered to active duty during the Navy's pre-World War II expansion. During the war, he commanded Pawtucket (YT-7), Black Douglas (PYc-45), Wyman (DE-38) and Samuel B. Roberts (DE-413).
During the Battle off Samar, October 25, 1944, while commanding Samuel B. Roberts, Lieutenant Commander Copeland led his ship and crew in an attack on a superior Japanese battleship and cruiser force. Though his ship was lost, this action helped defeat the Japanese counter-offensive against the Leyte invasion. For this, he was awarded the Navy Cross, and shared the Presidential Unit Citation with the rest of Task Unit 77.4.3
According to the action report of the USS Samuel B. Roberts, "The crew were informed over the loud speaker system at the beginning of the action, of the Commanding Officer's estimate of the situation, that is, a fight against overwhelming odds from which survival could not be expected, during which time we would do what damage we could. In the face of this knowledge the men zealously manned their stations wherever they might be, and fought and worked with such calmness, courage and efficiency that no higher honor could be conceived than to command such a group of men."
Following World War II, Copeland resumed his law career while remaining a member of the Naval Reserve, in which he rose to the rank of Rear Admiral. Robert W. Copeland died at Tacoma, Washington, on August 25, 1973.
- USS Samuel B. Roberts (DE-413), "Combined Action Report, Surface Engagement off Samar, Philippine Islands, and Report of Loss of USS Samuel B. Roberts (DE-413), on 25 October 1944," November 20, 1944, Serial X001, page 14.
- Doscher, J. Henry, Jr. Little Wolf at Leyte: The Story of the Heroic USS Samuel B. Roberts (DE-413) in the Battle of Leyte Gulf during World War II. Austin: Eakins Press, 1996.
- Hornfischer, James D. The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary WWII Story of the U.S. Navy's Finest Hour. New York: Bantam Books, 2004.
- Thomas, Evan. Sea of Thunder: Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign 1941-1945. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006.
- Wukovits, John. For Crew and Country: The Inspirational True Story of Bravery and Sacrifice Aboard the USS Samuel B. Roberts. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2013.
- The Battle Off Samar – Taffy III at Leyte Gulf website by Robert Jon Cox