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