Robert Nelson Adrian was born in San Francisco, California, on 5 July 1919, son of Jesse Bernard and Margarite Ann (Hoffman) Adrian. He graduated from Ontario (Oregon) High School in 1937, and attended Rutherford Preparatory School, Long Beach, California (1937-1938), and the University of Oregon at Eugene (1938-1939), prior to entering the US Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, on appointment from the State of Oregon in 1939. As a Midshipman he played varsity football and baseball. Graduated and commissioned Ensign on 19 June 1942, with the Class of 1943 (accelerated course due the war emergency), he subsequently advanced in rank, attaining that of Captain, to date from 1 July 1962.
Following graduation from the Naval Academy in 1942, he joined USS Gregory, and was on board that high speed transport during the Guadalcanal-Tulagi landings and the capture and defense of Guadalcanal. The Gregory was sunk 5 September 1942, by a Japanese cruiser and two destroyers off Lunga Point during the invasion of Guadalcanal. He received multiple shrapnel wounds and was rescued, after eight hours in the water, by Marines from Guadalcanal in a Navy landing craft. He was awarded the Purple Heart Medal for wounds received in the above action.
After a period of hospitalization, he reported in January 1943 for duty in connection with fitting out USS Boyd at the Bethlehem Steel Company, San Pedro, California. He served in that destroyer as Assistant Gunnery Officer, later Gunnery Officer, from her commissioning 8 May 1943 until July 1945, then was assigned to USS Collett as Executive Officer and Navigator. Following the cessation of hostilities, that destroyer operated in the waters off China and Japan. Detached from the Collett in September 1947, he was ordered to Alabama Polytechnic Institute at Auburn, where he had duty as Gunnery Instructor and for two months was Acting Professor of Naval Science.
From June 1949 until January 1951 he commanded USS LST 912, based at Little Creek, Virginia, operating with Amphibious Force, US Atlantic Fleet. He was next assigned to Charleston, South Carolina, where he assisted in the reactivation of USS Jarvis, attached to the "Mothball Fleet." He joined that destroyer upon her recommissioning, 9 February 1951, and served as Executive Officer and Navigator until February 1952. A month later he became Aide to Fleet Admiral W. D. Leahy, USN, (now deceased) attached to the Office of the Secretary of the Navy, and continued in that capacity until April 1954.
During May 1954 he attended courses at the Prospective Commanding and Executive Officers School and Fleet Sonar School, both in San Diego, California, and on 1 June, assumed command of USS Douglas A. Munro. That destroyer escort operated on Island Surveillance, search and rescue in the Pacific (Marianas, Bonin-Caroline areas). After a period of overhaul in the Hawaiian area, she participated in local training operations and was assigned to United Nations Trust Territory Surveillance, under Commander Naval Forces, Marianas.
Detached from the Douglas A. Munro in May 1956, he returned to the Naval Academy, where he had duty as Officer in Charge of Physical Training until July 1959. He then commanded USS Jonas Ingram (DD-938). Between August and October 1961 he was assigned to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations and in November reported as Operations and Plans Officer at Headquarters Sixth Naval District, Charleston, South Carolina. In August 1964 he was detached for duty as Commanding Officer of USS Everglades, and in July 1965 was ordered to duty in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Navy Department.
In addition to the Purple Heart Medal, Captain Adrian had the American Defense Service Medal; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with two silver stars and one bronze star (eleven engagements); American Campaign Medal; World War II Victory Medal; China Service Medal; Navy Occupation Service Medal, Asia Clasp; National Defense Service Medal; and the Philippine Defense Ribbon with two stars.