In Memory of
U.S. Navy Lieutenant       
Richard Beebe Williams
Gettysburg, South Dakota
Potter County
November 12, 1914 - December 15, 1944
Killed in Action aboard a Japanese Prisoner of War Ship

Richard Beebe Williams

Richard Beebe Williams, nicknamed Bill, was born November 12, 1914, at Gettysburg, SD, to Jay H. and Vera Bonnie Beebe Williams.  Bill was the oldest of three children (brother – Terrence MacFarlane Williams; sister – Florence Elizabeth Williams Bogue).

Bill attended grade school in Gettysburg and high school at Shattuck Military High School in Fairibault, MN.  After attending Devitt, a prep school in the Washington, DC area, Bill was appointed to the Naval Academy at Annapolis, MD, and graduated from there in 1937 with a degree in engineering.  At that time he entered the United States Navy as an Ensign.  He married Ann Lucile Fuller in August of 1937 in Los Angeles.  The marriage was actually against the rules because Ensigns were not supposed to marry for two years.  He and Lucile had no children.

Lieutenant Williams first duty was in Washington State.  By November of 1939 he had been assigned to Hawaii where he and Lucile lived in Honolulu.  On 3 January 1940 he received orders for duty on a destroyer in China, but before he left, his orders were changed.  Instead he reported (1 February 1940) for duty on the USS Augusta in the Philippine Islands.  In April 1940 the USS Augusta was sent to China.

In China Lt. Williams served aboard the flagship USS Luzon, a heavy draft gunboat, after the USS Augusta was relieved in September 1940.  Because trouble appeared to be brewing, Lucile and the other wives were evacuated by ship (the Monterey) on November 3, 1940. Lieutenant Williams received his Lt. j.g. commission November 21, 1940.  On 26 September 1941, he became the executive officer, chief engineer, and First Lt. aboard the USS Oahu, one of six gunboats in service on the Yangtze River in China.  Such gunboats were nicknamed "“the Yangtze River Rats” and were responsible for patrolling the river to protect American lives and property.

As signs of approaching war with Japan became clearer, the USS Oahu was sent from China to the Philippine Islands, arriving just three days before the bombing of Pearl Harbor (December 1941).  After Pearl Harbor those who were left in the

outposts of the Far East had one task: to buy time by fending off the Japanese – to hold back the flood as long as possible – at any cost.

The gunboat Oahu operated in Manila Bay on inshore patrol and in support of US forces on Bataan until Bataan fell on 5 April 1942, and then continued to operate about the island fortress of Corregidor until sunk by enemy gunfire 5 May 1942.  Lieutenant Williams was taken prisoner on May 6, 1942, at 11 P.M. by the Japanese.  He and the other prisoners were taken on a forced march to POW Camp #1 – Cabanatuan, Philippine Islands.

For the next three years, Lieutenant Williams and the other prisoners with him kept going when there seemed to be no hope.  They survived starvation, brutality, and torture in disease-ridden POW camps without decent food or water.  After two years at Cabanatuan (the “mother” POW camp), Lieutenant Williams was taken to Bilibid Prison in Manila in the fall of 1944.  His family received six cards and a partial transcript of a radiogram from him during his years as a POW.  His final note was dated 13 December 1944 at which time he told his wife that he was being taken to Japan.

After General MacArthur returned to the Philippines and began taking back the islands, the Japanese began shipping the healthiest POW’s to Japan to be used as slave labor.  On December 13, 1944, Lieutenant Williams was one of the 1,619 prisoners marching through Manila’s dusty streets on their way from Bilibid Prison to the Japanese ship Oryoku Maru.

The Oryoku Maru was not marked as a Prison-Of-War vessel.  Being unmarked, the ship was bombed and strafed by American planes from the aircraft carrier Hornet on both December 14 and 15.  On the morning of December 15, 1944, the Oryoku Maru sank in Subic Bay (Phillipine Islands), about 300 yards offshore.  Hundreds of men were killed or shot in the water as they tried to escape.  A telegram from the US government informed the family that Bill suffocated in the hold of the ship.  Later a shipmate who survived sent the family a letter stating that Bill had been injured by the bombs and had died in his arms.  His body was never recovered.  There is an official notice recognizing his death signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States.  It reads:

In grateful memory of
Richard Beebe Williams
Who died in the service of his country at
Sea, Asiatic Area, aboard Japanese Prisoner of War Ship, 15 December 1944.
He stands in the unbroken line of patriots who have dared to die
That freedom might live, and grow, and increase its blessings.
Freedom lives, and through it, he lives –
In a way that humbles the undertakings of most men.

Franklin D. Roosevelt-
President of the United States of America-

This entry was respectfully submitted by Michael Kendall 9th grade, Stanley County High School, Fort Pierre, South Dakota, April 15, 2002.  Information for this entry was provided by Bruce Williams, Gettysburg, South Dakota, nephew of Lt. Richard Beebe Williams.