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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
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Robert L. Wilson

 

Robert Lee Wilson, born 24 May 1921 in Centralia, Ill., enlisted in the Marines at Chicago 9 September 1941 and after training at San Diego, joined the men of the 1st Marine Division 7 to 9 August 1942 in landing assaults against a number of strongly defended positions on Tulagi, Gavatu [sic; Gavutu], Tanambogo, Florida, and Guadalcanal, British Solomon Islands. His division completely routed all the enemy forces and seized a most valuable base and airfield. Wilson shared in the Presidential Unit Citation awarded the 1st Marine Division, Reinforced, for actions on Guadalcanal and in a Presidential Unit Citation awarded the 2d Marine Division, Reinforced, for the seizure and occupation of the Japanese-held atoll of Tarawa, Gilbert Islands, 20 to 24 November 1944. Pfc. Robert Lee Wilson was killed in action while taking part in the capture and occupation of the Marianas Islands. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 2d Battalion, 6th Marines, 2d Marine Division, during action against enemy Japanese forces on Tinian on 3 August 1944. While advancing toward enemy troops, Private First Class Wilson threw himself on an enemy grenade sacrificing himself to save a group of companions.

 

(DD - 847: displacement 2,425; length 3906; beam 411; draft 186; speed 35 knots; complement 367; armament 6 5, 10 20mm., 10 21 torpedo tubes, 6 depth charge projectors, 2 depth charge tracks; class Gearing)

 

Robert L. Wilson (DD-847) was laid down by the Bath Iron Works Corp., Bath, Maine, 2 July 1945; launched 5 January 1946; sponsored by Mrs. Joe Wilson; and commissioned in the Boston Navy Yard 28 March 1946, Comdr. John T. Probasco, in command.

 

Following shakedown in Cuban waters, Robert L. Wilson sailed from Norfolk 23 July 1946 for a 6-month tour of duty with the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean. Returning to the United States in February 1947, she spent the next 2 years based at Newport, R.I., operating off the Atlantic Coast and in the Caribbean.

 

After overhaul at Boston, she stood out of Hampton Roads on a midshipman cruise to Plymouth, England; Cherbourg, France; and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. On 4 March 1950 Robert L. Wilson was redesignated an escort destroyer (DDE-847). She finished out the year with a midshipman training cruise to Northern Europe, duty in the Mediterranean which included special antisubmarine warfare demonstrations, and hunter-killer operations along the eastern seaboard from Norfolk.

 

On 1 January 1951, as the result of a fleet reorganization, Robert L. Wilson became a unit of Escort Squadron 4, and hoisted the pennant of Commander, Escort Division 42. By 30 June 1960, she had completed eight tours of service in the Mediterranean since commissioning, provided training for cadets of the U.S. Military Academy along the eastern seaboard; and conducted the annual summer midshipmen cruises for the U.S. Naval Academy, stressing antisubmarine tactics. On 1 July 1956, she was assigned to the newly established Destroyer Squadron 36, composed of destroyer escort types specially configured for antisubmarine missions and yet maintaining the capability to handle all destroyer missions. During the last week of November and the early part of December 1959, Robert L. Wilson and two other escort destroyers participated in Operation "Monsoon," manning sea-air rescue stations for the Presidential flight to Europe from the United States. She then operated in the western Atlantic and Caribbean until a Norfolk Navy Yard overhaul in the summer of 1960.

 

Returning to Caribbean and Atlantic operations, in January 1961 Robert L. Wilson pursued Portuguese liner SS Santa Maria which had been seized by a group of revolutionaries. An 8-day chase took Robert L. Wilson across the equator to Recife, Brazil. Returning to Norfolk, Robert L. Wilson underwent a month of preparation, then departed on 8 June for her ninth Mediterranean cruise. She spent the fall and winter of 1961 operating in the western Atlantic out of Norfolk.

 

In January 1962, Robert L. Wilson participated in recovery operations for a Project Mercury manned space capsule. Robert L. Wilson deployed with Task Group Bravo to Northern Europe in February, returning to Norfolk in mid-June 1962. On 1 August 1962 she was again classified DD-847. In September of 1962, Robert L. Wilson and the other ships of Destroyer Division 362 deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as a unit under the command of the Naval Base Commander for the purpose of base defense, and was at Guantanamo and in adjacent waters during the Cuban Crisis in October. Robert L. Wilson returned to Norfolk in late November and operated locally until March 1963 when she entered the Philadelphia Navy Yard for a FRAM I modernization. Emerging from her overhaul period in 1964, she continued to serve with the Atlantic Fleet for the balance of that year and throughout 1965.

 

After serving as gunfire support ship at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in late January and early February 1966, Robert L. Wilson was assigned the abort station for the first unmanned Apollo space shot. In April and June she was rescue destroyer for Wasp (CVS-18), prime recovery ship for the Gemini 9 space mission. Following ASW exercises, she made her 12th deployment to the Mediterranean 22 July 1966, returning to Norfolk 17 December. Following service as schoolship for the Fleet Sonar School in January and February, Robert L. Wilson spent the rest of 1967 operating in the Atlantic and Caribbean.

 

Robert L. Wilson continued these operations until May 1968 when she joined the search for nuclear submarine Scorpion (SSN-589) searching the continental shelf off the coast of Norfolk and then following the Scorpion's track back to her last reported position southwest of the Azores without success. Returning to Norfolk 13 June, Robert L. Wilson operated in the Atlantic until steaming 6 September for a western Pacific deployment.

 

Touching at San Diego, Pearl Harbor, Midway, Guam, and Subic Bay, Robert L. Wilson took up a naval gunfire support mission 36 miles south of Hue, the ancient capital of South Vietnam. She then undertook search and rescue duty in the Gulf of Tonkin after 28 October, destroying two sampans with .50 caliber machine gun fire and hand grenades. In early November Robert L. Wilson was assigned as plane guard for Constellation (CVA-64) on Yankee Station. She remained in the Far East through the end of the year.

 

Robert L. Wilson returned to San Diego from the Far East 27 March 1969, and operated off the west coast until transiting the Panama Canal and arriving Norfolk 21 June. She then operated in the western Atlantic and Caribbean until deploying to the Mediterranean on 5 March 1970. During this Mediterranean cruise, Robert L. Wilson participated in two combined NATO exercises, DAWN PATROL and MEDTACEX, and was, for a time, diverted to the Levantine Basin due to another Middle East crisis. She returned to Norfolk 16 September for a leave, upkeep, and training cycle which continued to the end of the year.

 

Upon completion of overhaul, refresher training, and other operations in the Atlantic, Robert L. Wilson commenced another deployment to the Sixth Fleet, departing from Norfolk 17 September. After six months away from Norfolk, she returned 17 March 1972 and completed the year operating out of that port.

Robert L. Wilson decommissioned at Norfolk on 30 September 1974 and transferred to the inactive fleet facility at Philadelphia. She was struck from the Navy on 30 September 1974 and sunk as a target as part of the Harpoon missile test program on 1 March 1980.

 

Robert L. Wilson earned three battle stars for service in the Vietnam conflict.


19 October 2005