Robert W Copeland
Class of 1935
Rear Admiral Robert Witcher Copeland enlisted in the Naval Reserve in 1929 and was commissioned as a Naval Reserve officer in 1935. He practiced law from 1935 until 1940, when he was ordered to active duty during the Navy’s pre-World War II expansion effort.
During the War, he commanded the coal burning tug PAWTUCKET (YT 7), the Costal Patrol Yacht BLACK DOUGLAS (PYc 45), and the destroyer escort WYMAN (DE 38) before taking command of SAMUEL B. ROBERTS (DE 413).
Shortly after dawn on 25 October 1944, while in command of the Samuel B. Roberts, then LCDR Copeland was protecting the escort carriers of Taffy III when a Japanese task force suddenly appeared on the horizon and opened fire. After joining in the daring torpedo attack on the Japanese cruisers and scoring a torpedo hit on one and at least 40 gunfire hits on a second, The ROBERTS was hit by a salvo of 14-inch shells which tore a 40 feet long and 10 feet wide hole in the port side of her number 2 engine rooms. The ship was abandoned and soon sank. Though his ship was lost, this action helped defeat the Japanese counter-offensive against the Leyte invasion. For this, Copeland was awarded the Navy Cross.
Following World War II, Copeland resumed his law career while remaining a member of the Naval Reserve, in which he rose to the rank of Rear Admiral. USS COPELAND (FFG-25) was named in honor of Rear Admiral Robert W. Copeland.