Title: Ensign, National, USS Samuel B. Roberts (DE-413), Battle of Leyte Gulf
Accession #: NHHC 2013.052.001
Size: 26.5 x 48
Medium: Fabric, Metal
Location: Headquarters Artifact Collection, Naval History and Heritage Command
One 48-star national ensign with canvas hoist and four brass eyelets. It has thirteen equal horizontal stripes of red alternating with white, with a blue rectangle in the canton bearing 48 small, white, five-pointed stars arranged in six horizontal rows.
The USS Samuel B Roberts (DE-413) was part of Task Unit 77.4.3, radio signal Taffy 3, a group of escort carriers and destroyers patrolling the coast of Samar in support of the US Army’s landings on Leyte in the Philippines. The Japanese fleet of 23 warships, initially thought to be in retreat from earlier battles in Leyte Gulf, had instead turned and were coming around the coast of Samar directly for Taffy 3. On 25 October 1944, the USS Samuel B. Roberts, knowing the odds, charged into battle at 0810. Closing on the heavy cruiser Chokai, USS Samuel B. Roberts opened fire, causing damage to the conning tower of the heavy cruiser emptying nearly its entire magazine matching the Chokai in battle blow-for-blow. The battleship Kongo turned its fire on the US destroyer, landing heavy damage at the waterline, the main deck, and a gun handling room, rendering her dead in the water. Receiving more fire from Japanese vessels, the Samuel B. Roberts continued fighting until 0910 when Captain Copeland gave the order to abandon ship. As her crew abandoned ship, Chief Torpedoman Rudy Skau retrieved her battle ensign and tucked it safely away. The ship went down and her crew floated for nearly three days awaiting rescue, with many survivors perishing from wounds and shark attacks.
Years later, Skau passed along the tattered flag to his employer, James Massick, a 1954 graduate of the University of Washington. While a student at the University of Washington, Massick met Captain Robert Copeland, who had commanded the USS Samuel B. Roberts during the battle. Copeland was a 1935 graduate of the University of Washington’s Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) and he encouraged Massick to apply for the program, which he did. Massick eventually graduated and was commissioned as an Ensign. Early in 2013, Massick contacted Captain David Melin, Commanding Officer of the school’s NROTC unit, and offered to return the priceless battle ensign to the Navy.