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ARM/2c Robert Phares ECKMAN
USS Wasp CV-18 Plank Owner
Torpedo Squadron VT-14
USN Service # 2442423
KIA Lost At Sea WWII
Robert was born on February 22, 1922 to Phares and Mary Ann Eckman. His father, Phares, was an engineer and was employed by the Reading Railroad. Their family settled in Coatesville, Pennsylvania and lived at 138 South Fourth Avenue.
Robert was the youngest of four children: Robert, Pearl, Ella Mae and Chester. He was known as quiet and reserved but friendly to all. He was considered a good Christian boy. He with his family were members of the Olivet United Methodist Church located at 3rd Ave. and Chestnut St.
Robert attended Scott High School in Coatesville where he played on the soccer team, as well as becoming star on the swim team. The yearbook describes Robert as:
Active member of the Swimming team . . . lover of all sports . . . a twinkle in his eye . . . familiar chuckle . . . looks forward to being a government employee . . . bashful with girls.
Robert graduated from Scott in 1940, after which, he obtained employment at the Lukens Steel Company in Coatesville, working in the office.
Robert enlisted in the United States Navy on August 27, 1942. He was a very patriotic young man, and wanted to have an opportunity to serve his country in the great time of need.
After boot camp Robert was sent to the Naval Air Technical Training Center in Millingtown, Tennessee (just outside of Memphis), training as an Aviation Radio Operator. He was then sent for Gunnery training at the Naval Air Gunnery School at Hollywood Florida.
Robert then received Aviation Operation Training at the Opaloca Air Station, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. . There he trained as the radio operator/ gunner on a TBM Avenger Torpedo bomber. The Avenger was a rather large single engined carrier based bomber, with a crew of 3: Pilot, Gunner (Dorsal Turret behind the pilot), and Radio Operator. The Radio Operator also manned a gun in the bottom rear of the aircraft, he had to literally lay on his stomach facing rearward to fire the gun. An excellent example of this aircraft is found at the Mid Atlantic Aircraft Museum in Reading, PA. (This is the same type of aircraft that former President Bush flew during World War II). This extensive training took nearly a year, after which he achieved the rating of Aviation Radio Man 2nd Class.
Robert was then sent to Quincy, Massachusetts to join the Essex Class aircraft carrier USS Wasp CV-18 then under construction. (The earlier Wasp CV-7 was sunk in September 1942. The new carrier near completion was originally to be named Oriskany, but the name was changed to honor the earlier Wasp). Robert was a "Plank Owner", a member of the ship's crew at the time it was commissioned.
The Wasp was launched in August 1943 (left) and commissioned in November. After training in the Atlantic, the ship transited the Panama Canal, arriving at Pearl Harbor, in April 1944. The carrier conducted further training and then joined the fleet of fast attack carriers alternatively designated Task Force 58 (while commanded by Admiral Raymond Spruance) and Task Force 38 (while commanded by Admiral Bull Halsey).
The Wasp's Task Force conducted intense operations across the Central Pacific. attacking a number of Japanese strongholds as well as providing air cover for our forces. It was during one of these strikes that Robert was injured, but fortunately not seriously. In a note to his parents he said that he was wounded when his plane was attacked and hit by shells. He stayed in the sick bay for two weeks. Robert was awarded his first Purple Heart.
It was during one of these strikes that Robert was injured, but fortunately not seriously. In a note to his parents he said that he was wounded when his plane was attacked and hit by shells. He stayed in the sick bay for two weeks. Robert was awarded his first Purple Heart.
In June the Wasp provided air support for the invasion of the Marinas Islands of Saipan and Tinian. During this operation the Japanese reacted, sending their fleet of carriers with massive air strikes to foil the invasion. This resulted in the Battle of the Philippine Sea on June 19th 1944. This battle also became known as the "Great Marinas Turkey Shoot" because the Japanese lost 2 carriers and 346 aircraft while we lost only 30 aircraft. During this battle many of our aircraft were returning at night near empty of fuel. The Carrier Group Commander, Admiral Mitscher ordered all ships to turn on their lights to guide the aircraft home - an unprecedented practice during war. Still half of the aircraft landed on the wrong carriers, nearly 80 aircraft ran out of fuel and ditched.
The Wasp then supported the landings in the Palau Islands in September, and then staged a number of raids softening the Japanese Defenses of the Philippines. The Task Force supported the landings on Leyte Island in the Philippines in early October, and then proceeded to attack the Japanese defenses on Formosa (Taiwan).
On one of these strikes against Formosa, Robert’s aircraft was shot down in flames. Radioman 2nd Class Robert P. Eckman died in service to his country on October 13th 1944. Robert is remembered on the Tablets of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery in Manila, Philippines, and his family was awarded an additional Purple Heart for Robert.
Robert's name can be seen listed among the other airmen who served and died aboard USS Wasp on the Flight Crew Memorial Page of the http://www.cv18.com (USS Wasp) web site.
Robert’s brother Chester worked at a shipyard in Wilmington during World War II. His job was considered crucial to the war effort, and he was not allowed to enlist for some time. When released he joined the Navy and served in the Sea-Bees (Navy Construction Battalions) in New Guinea, and Leyte Island in the Philippines.
His family was notified by telegram that Robert was Missing In Action on October 24th. Because none of the crewman’s bodies were found, his status remained MIA for a number of months, and was eventually changed to Killed In Action. The family installed a marker at their family plot at the Silver Brook Cemetery on Lancaster Ave, in Wilmington.