The Navy will celebrate its 244th Birthday, Oct. 13, by honoring the heroism and action during the Battle of Leyte Gulf and demonstrating Navy’s critical role in our nation’s defense then and now.
Leyte Gulf, lasting three days, was the largest sea battle in modern history and gives today’s Sailors multiple examples of heroism in action as we again face great power competition. From Oct. 23-25, the U.S. Navy’s goal was to take back the Philippines from Japan and secure their hold in the Pacific theatre. What ensued was multiple, smaller, widely-separated engagements that made up the larger Battle of Leyte Gulf around the Philippine islands. While there were several lessons to learn, losses and defeats, the Battle of Leyte Gulf had one common thread: heroism in action. The Sailors’ service in harm’s way ultimately led to Japan’s defeat.
The theme "No Higher Honor" draws upon the extraordinary service and sacrifice of the Sailors who fought the greatest sea battle in history with a particular focus on the heroism of the crew of USS Samuel B. Roberts (DE-413), during Leyte Gulf’s Battle off Samar. As a final stand, on Oct. 25, 1944, during the invasion of the Philippines, USS Samuel B. Roberts, commanded by LCDR Robert W. Copeland, Roberts and her crew, along with a small group of accompanying destroyers known collectively as Taffy 3, bravely charged into a line of Japanese battleships to protect American forces landing on the islands. The American destroyers were decimated in the action; Roberts in particular suffered multiple direct hits from the battleship Kongo before Copeland was forced to abandon ship. Roberts sank around 1007 the same day she entered battle. Although the American destroyers were thoroughly routed, their actions prevented the enemy forces from concentrating fire on the landing forces. As a result, ground troops were able to establish beachheads on the islands and eventually retake the Philippines─a major objective on the road to victory.
Commander Copeland would later recount the Battle of Leyte Gulf extolling the valor of his crew in the face of such overwhelming odds, stating that there was "no higher honor" than to have the privilege to command such a crew.
In addition to the heroism of the crew of Samuel B. Roberts, Commander Ernest Evans and his crew also put the mission first during the battle. Commanding officer of USS Johnston (DD-557), Evans told his crew at commissioning, "This is going to be a fighting ship. I intend to go in harm’s way, and anyone who doesn’t want to go along had better get off right now." When the Japanese were closing in on Taffy 3, Evans stayed true to his word and led Taffy 3’s charge into the fight with the Japanese battleships in the face of overwhelming odds. Commander Evans ultimately went down with his ship, but succeeded in meeting his objective─Taffy 3 had successfully turned back the Japanese, secured the Philippines from the enemy, and ended the threat posed by the Imperial Japanese Navy.
The service of WWII Sailors cemented the Navy’s legacy: there is no higher honor than to serve and to do so in harm’s way. Sailors today carry on this legacy of toughness, initiative, integrity, and accountability. Heroism in action takes on many forms. From cyber to submarines, the actions of Sailors, both past and present, prove there is no higher honor than to serve in the U.S. Navy.