"We are about to go into a fight against overwhelming odds from which survival cannot be expected," announced Lt. Cmdr. Robert W. Copeland, commanding officer of the John C. Butler-class destroyer escort USS Samuel B. Roberts (DE 413), over the 1MC on Oct. 25, 1944.
On that fateful day, USS Samuel B. Roberts and Allied ships came under attack from the Imperial Japanese Navy in the Leyte Gulf. Largely outmatched in number, armament and armor by Japanese ships, one of the largest battles in naval history occurred, the Battle off Samar.
Copeland proceeded to do the unthinkable, and charged head-on into the attacking battleships, cruisers and destroyers. Samuel B. Roberts was able to inflict damage to enemy ships with her torpedoes and 5-inch guns, but was outmatched by the larger ships.
"By zigzagging we were able to keep from being hit by enemy torpedoes," stated from Archie Killough's personal journal, a Sailor aboard Samuel B. Roberts. "Finally their shells found their mark. First, gun 2 aft was hit killing all but three of a crew of twenty-seven."
After a courageous bout, Samuel B. Roberts was dead in the water, but not all was lost, the crew abandoned ship.
Chief Torpedoman Rudy Skau managed to retrieve the ship's battle ensign and hold onto it for nearly three days as the crew floated awaiting rescue. During this time many of the survivors passed away due to their wounds and shark attacks.
"After spending fifty-two hours in the water we were rescued by PC623," wrote Killough. "We were about dead when they picked us up."
Copeland, who went on to make Rear Admiral, received the second highest military decoration for valor, the Navy Cross, for his actions in the Battle off Samar. The seventh Oliver Hazard Perry Class frigate was eventually named for Copeland.
Copeland was born in Tacoma, Wash., and was a graduate of the University of Washington's (UW) Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) in 1935.