Robert Houston Norris was born around 1920, the son of John Norris and Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Dunn. Stepson of Ralph Alonzo Mayton.
He served on the USS Marblehead (CL12) in September 1942 and was transferred to the USS Intrepid (CV-11) on 16 August 1943. He went missing on duty at gun station in number 15 Gun Tub starboard side at 0011, 17 February 1944, when an explosion occurred from an enemy torpedo at about Frame 194. The explosion sheared the bolts securing the gun tub to the hull allowing the tub and its occupants to drop into the sea at Lat. 07-23-00 North, Long. 153-32-00 East.
Robert H. Houston was officially declared dead on 18 February 1945 and is memorialized at Manila American Cemetery, Fort Bonifacio, Manila, Philippines.
Hello, Robert Norris was my Great Uncle. Any info that you can supply would be greatly appreciated.
–Submitted by James E. King
The Knoxville News-Sentinel, 12 December 1941
Robert H. Norris, 23, son of Mrs. R.A. Mayton, 131 Pike Street, Alcoa, is in the U.S. Navy and was stationed somewhere around Manila when last heard from. He has been in service three years and has a first class seaman’s rating. His last letter was dated Nov. 2, and was received by his family Nov. 24. He has a sister, Mrs. R.L. Evans, 1200 North Broadway, Knoxville.
The Knoxville News-Sentinel, 15 May 1942
At least one of the honor guests who sat on the speakers’ platform at Alcoa yesterday and heard high Navy officials call for more and more production to put “enough there in time” known from first hand the damage and suffering a lack of planes and other munitions can cost. He was Seaman Robert Norris, -year-old Knoxville sailor who was on board the U.S.S. Marblehead cruiser when it was “bombed to hell” in the battle of the Dutch East Indies in January. The wrecked cruiser limped into an East Coast port this week after travelling over 13,000 miles to get home from the battle area and the crew members were allowed furloughs to go home. But if it were left up to Seaman Norris to tell the story of the ship’s valiant fight and storybook trip home, our history books would have little to say of the act. To most questions about the Java Sea battle and the Marblehead’s long voyage, the tall, suntanned sailor will only shake his head, smile and wait for another question. Interview at the home of his mother, Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Mayton, 131 Pike Street, Alcoa, Seaman Norris said he hopes to be reassigned to the Marblehead as soon as she is ready to put out again.
“I’d rather go back to her than to go on another ship,” he said. He had been on the cruiser since July, 1939, and had been “almost everywhere” with her. Promptings by his mother and sister, Mrs. Roy L. Evans, 1200 North Broadway, Knoxville, failed to bring from the seaman a detailed description of the battle and voyage. Piecing together bits of information obtained from him and data released at an East Coast port by the ship’s captain, Arthur G. Robinson, the story goes something like this:
The Marblehead was on its way to carry out an offensive mission with orders to intercept a large, well protected convoy of the enemy which was expected to effect a landing at Macassar. Seaman Norris was at his station with one of the six-inch guns in the main battery when a fleet of enemy land-based planes roared out of the clouds. “I stood by my gun throughout the attack but didn’t get to fire a single salvo,” he related. “All the action was from the anti-aircraft batteries. Our guns are used only for surface craft and none showed up”. Although Mr. Norris declined to reveal the number of planes in the attack, the ship’s captain in an interview said there were at least 37 and an official Washington announcement said there were 54. The attack lasted for three hours and 45 minutes, the captain had told newspapermen. Seaman Norris said he stood at his gun post for some time after the planes had disappeared while his ship settled as it began taking water. “Then we were all ordered below to bail water,” he said. “We formed bucket brigades and dipped out the water while the submerged pumps worked full speed. Other were trying to stop the water from rushing in so fast.” From there on the story is a military secret as far as the Knoxville seaman is concerned. He passes off further questions with a shrug of the shoulders and a smile. “Our training really came in handy,” he said. “During and after the attack no one became excited. Some might have been a little nervous, but they remained at their posts.” One of the two direct bomb hits struck near his station, “close enough,” he said. It injured one of his bosom pals who later died, he said.
Learning that the young veteran was home on furlough, Aluminum Co. officials invited Seaman Norris to sit on the speakers’ platform during the Navy “E” ceremonies at Alcoa.
- Rank: Boatswains Mate Second Class
- Date of death: 17 February 1944
- County: Blount
- Service Branch: Navy
- Division/Assignment: USS Intrepid
- Theater: Pacific
- Conflict: World War II
- Awards: Purple Heart
- Burial/Memorial Location: Manila American Cemetery, Fort Bonifacio, Manila, Philippines
- Location In Memorial: Pillar VI, Middle Panel
- Contact us to sponsor Robert H. Norris
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