Jason Robards - Naval Service in World War II

Naval Service in World War II

As a radioman 3rd class in the Navy, Robards served aboard a heavy cruiser, the USS Northampton (CA-26) in 1941. On December 7, 1941, he was aboard the Northampton in the Pacific Ocean about 100 miles (160 km) off Hawaii. Contrary to some stories, he witnessed the devastation of the Japanese attack on Hawaii only afterwards, when the Northampton returned to Pearl Harbor two days later. The Northampton was later directed into the Guadalcanal campaign in World War II's Pacific theater, where she participated in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands.

During the Battle of Tassafaronga on Guadalcanal on the night of November 30, 1942, the Northampton was sunk by hits from two Japanese torpedoes. Robards found himself treading water until near daybreak, when he was rescued by an American destroyer. For its service in the war the Northampton was awarded five battle stars.

Two years later, in November 1944, Robards was radioman on the USS Nashville (CL-43), the flagship for the invasion of Mindoro in the northern Philippines. On December 13, she was struck by a kamikaze aircraft off Negros Island in the Philippines. The aircraft hit one of the port five-inch gun mounts, while its two bombs set the midsection ablaze. There were 223 casualties, and the Nashville was forced to return to Pearl Harbor and then to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington, for repairs.

Robards served honorably during the war, but was not a recipient of the U.S. Navy Cross for bravery, as has been recorded in numerous uncited resources. The inaccurate story that he was a Navy Cross recipient derives from a 1979 column by Hy Gardner which stated that Robards was awarded the medal. From this false story, many subsequent references repeated the inaccuracy. But Robards's name does not appear on any official or semi-official rolls of Navy Cross recipients.

It was on the Nashville that Robards first found a copy of Eugene O’Neill’s play Strange Interlude in the ship’s library. It was also in the Navy that he first started thinking seriously about becoming an actor. He had emceed for a Navy band in Pearl Harbor, gotten a few laughs and decided he liked it. His father suggested he enroll in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City.

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