Robert Josephus Davis enlisted in the Navy on Oct. 3, 1919, at the age of 18 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Following his graduation from boot camp in San Diego, Robert Davis earned the rating of Aviation Carpenter. In April of 1937 Robert Davis was promoted to Chief Aviation Carpenters Mate while stationed with VP-17F. Within three years he was re-designated as an Aviation Machinist Mate. Due to his untimely death, the details of his early career are limited to facts drawn from his Naval record. As follows, are the basic timeline of his final years in the Navy.
In December 1941 Davis was stationed at Sangley Point on Ologapo, Philippines. As part of VP-102, he reported to the larger Wing-10 consolidated maintenance team. Following the attacks on Pearl Harbor, the military personnel in the Philippines found themselves quickly under attack. A Naval Battalion was formed at Mariveles, Bataan after receiving some basic infantry training and scrounging weapons. The naval infantry engaged the enemy in dense jungles until they were relieved by an Army unit and redeployed to the island of Corregidor.
As Davis continued to fight the enemy with his shipmates, they were ultimately overrun and surrendered on or about May 6, 1942. He was initially taken to Bilibid Prison for processing and then transferred to Cabanatuan. During his years as a Prisoner of War, he was used throughout the Philippines for manual labor. In August of 1944 he and 750 other POW’s completed two airstrips. Following a night bombing by U.S. aircraft, the Japanese moved the prisoners onto an unknown ship to Zamboanga. During this time, the Japanese established a system of transportation called “Hell Ships” by those being transported to prevent the liberation of the prisoners in the Philippines. These Hell Ships were ordinary merchant vessels used to transport the Allied prisoners from the Philippines to elsewhere in the Japanese empire.
At Zamboanga the POWs were transferred to the Japanese cargo ship SS Shino Maru. On Sept. 5, in a convoy of five ships with two destroyers escorts they proceeded north. Two days later on Sept. 7, the U.S. submarine USS Paddle sighted the convoy, with the Shino Maru in the lead, as it passed close to the western coast of Mindanao at Sindayan Point. Unfortunately, the Paddle was unaware that the ship was carrying Allied POWs. The submarine fired four torpedoes at a tanker and two at the Shinyo Maru. Chief Robert Davis was killed in action along with 688 fellow POWs. Only 83 American POWs survived. The crew of USS Paddle was not informed of the deaths of hundreds of Allied POWs until the war was over in 1946.
After 25 years of Naval service (more than 15 years of service here at Naval Air Station, North Island), Davis was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star with V for valor in combat, the Prisoner of War Medal, Purple Heart Medal and multiple unit and personal decorations. He was survived by his wife Alison and daughters Jackie Davis Plett and Janelle Davis Swalley.