Naval Historical Center
805 Kidder Breese Street SE
Washington Navy Yard, DC 20374-5060
William O. Needham was born on 20 July 1911 in Ivor, Virginia. At the age of 18, he enlisted in the Navy and attended basic training at Hampton Roads Naval Training Station in Virginia. Aviation General Utility training followed at Great Lakes Naval Training Station, and in February 1931 he was assigned to Hampton Roads Naval Air Station for duty. From August 1931 to January 1932 Needham attended the Parachute Material School at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey before returning to Hampton Roads.
In April 1932, he completed the Bureau of Navigation's Aviation Machinist's Mate training course. The following year he was reassigned to USS Memphis. Except for a temporary duty assignment at San Diego Naval Air Station in June 1933, Needham served on Memphis until August 1934. While onboard, he was advanced to the rating of Aviation Machinist's Mate Third Class (AMM3). From August 1934 until December 1935, Needham was assigned to USS Marblehead. He was again promoted on 18 November 1935, being appointed AMM2.
Needham returned to shore duty in 1936, first at the Naval Torpedo Station in Newport, Rhode Island. From March 1936 until May 1937, he was assigned to Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida for Naval Aviation Pilot training. While at Pensacola, his next promotion was approved, and Needham was appointed Aviation Machinist's Mate First Class in March 1937.
Having completed his training and been designated a Naval Aviation Pilot, Needham departed Pensacola in May 1937. He arrived at the San Diego Receiving Ship the following month, en route to duty with Patrol Squadron Five in the Panama Canal Zone. Needham spent nearly four years with various patrol squadrons, serving in Squadron 33 and Squadron 54 after leaving Squadron Five in July 1939. In June 1940, while assigned to Patrol Squadron 33, he was advanced to the rating of Chief Aviation Machinist's Mate.
Beginning in 1941, Needham had duty with Support Force, Atlantic Fleet. Now an Acting Warrant Machinist, he was ordered to USS Prairie in May. Reassigned to Task Force 24 in March 1942, his appointment as a warrant officer was confirmed in June of that year. The following month, he was promoted to the rank of Ensign for temporary service.
His assignment to USS Prairie ended in December 1942, and Needham reported to Anacostia Naval Air Station in Washington, DC. On 1 May 1943 he was appointed Lieutenant (jg) for temporary service, and just 17 days later promoted to the rank of Lieutenant. Well thought-of by his superiors, Needham was recommended for a permanent commission and continued service as an officer. His career was cut unfortunately short when he was killed in a plane crash near Beltsville, Maryland on 17 May 1945.
Scope and Content Note
This collection contains copies of official documents, clippings, and some personal correspondence regarding Lieutenant William O. Needham. It is arranged into three series.
Series I, Service Record, contains copies of official documents from Needham's service record. Included are documents relating to his training, duty assignments, promotions, and summaries of his service. The documents are arranged chronologically.
In Series II, Correspondence, are letters to his wife, Therese, from a family friend and the Department of the Navy following her husband's death. Also in this series are letters from Needham's son, William Needham Jr., seeking information about his father's death. They are arranged in chronological order. The originals of these letters are fragile. Reference copies have been made and are to be used by researchers.
Series III, Miscellaneous, contains clippings about the crash in which Lieutenant Needham died and two quarterly reports from Anacostia Naval Air Station for 1945.
This collection should be cited as Papers of William O. Needham, Operational Archives Branch, Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.
0.2 cubic feet
3 July 2003