Service Number: 273306
Birth and Early Life:
Robert Watkins was born in Paris, Arkansas on July 23, 1921. His father, Earnest Watkins, died just a few months after his 24th birthday in 1924; Genevieve Connaughton Watkins remarried a man named George J. Smith and moved to Camden, New Jersey with her son.
Enlistment and Boot Camp:
Eighteen-year-old Robert enlisted in the Marine Corps on August 2, 1939. (1) He completed boot training at Parris Island, and was posted to the Marine Barracks at Naval Air Station Lakehurst, New Jersey.
Service Prior to 1941:
Watkins was promoted to Private First Class in February, 1940. He applied for and was accepted to Sea School at Norfolk Navy Yard in Virginia, and joined the Marine detachment of the cruiser USS Quincy on July 1.
For the rest of 1940 and most of 1941, Watkins and the Quincy patrolled the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, participated in fleet exercises in the Caribbean, and escorted convoys through dangerous areas.
In early 1942, Quincy and her Marines traveled to Iceland, then returned to New York for an overhaul before proceeding down the east coast, through the Panama Canal, and up to Pearl Harbor, where they joined the US Pacific Fleet, then preparing for the invasion of the Solomon Islands. They fired their first shots in anger in support of the Marine landing on Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942; antiaircraft gunners, of whom Watkins was probably one, also helped repel an aerial attack the following day. The cruiser took up a patrol position to protect the vulnerable transports and freighters unloading valuable supplies on Guadalcanal, and as night fell believed the situation well in hand.
Date Of Loss:
PFC Watkins was killed in the early morning hours of August 9, 1942. His ship was suddenly illuminated by Japanese searchlights; seconds later, enemy shells began striking all over the doomed cruiser, and within 20 minutes she capsized and sank.
No trace of Robert Watkins’ body was ever found. Surviving Marines later recounted that they had seen his gun emplacement take a direct hit. (2)
Next Of Kin:
Mother, Mrs. Genevieve Smith
Status Of Remains:
Lost at sea
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines.
(1) At the time of his enlistment, Watkins’ mother’s address was in Pitcairn, Pennsylvania.
(2) This anecdote, and the photographs, are courtesy of Robert Watkins’ nephew Tony.