Private 1st Class Robert A. Wescoat (1910–1944)

ResidencesCivilian Occupation
Pennsylvania, New Jersey, DelawareWorker in a print shop?
BranchService Number
U.S. Army20255980
TheaterUnit
European328th Harbor Craft Company
Military Occupational Specialty (Presumed)Campaigns/Battles
065 (seaman)Normandy campaign

Early Life & Family

Robert Albert Wescoat was born at Warren Emergency Hospital in Warren, Pennsylvania, early on the morning of July 1, 1910. He was the fourth child of Robert Charles Wescoat (1881–1940), and Laura Hann Wescoat (née McKergin, 1882–1942), who were living in Sheffield, Pennsylvania. He had at least ten siblings. Two older siblings died prior to his birth and at least two younger sisters died very young. Wescoat’s father was listed as a glassblower at a bottle factory (1910 census), as a carpenter (1918 draft card), as a laborer at a powder mill (1920 census), and as a house carpenter (1930 census).   

Based on the death certificate for Wescoat’s younger sister, Laura Angeline Wescoat, the family moved to Alexandria, Virginia, after August 28, 1911, and prior to July 4, 1912. It appears the family had relocated to New Jersey by the end of October 1913, when Wescoat’s younger brother, Wilmer, was born in Paulsboro. The family was recorded on the state census on June 10, 1915, living on East Broad Street in Paulsboro. 

Wescoat’s enlistment data card stated that he had a grammar school education and recorded his civilian occupation as “Unskilled occupations in printing and publishing.” His military paperwork described him as standing five feet, 4½ inches tall and weighing 120 lbs., with brown hair and blue eyes. It is unclear when he moved to Delaware, but Wescoat was a resident of New Castle County and a member of the 198th Coast Artillery of the Delaware National Guard by September 1940. The Wilmington Morning News reported that he lived at 6 East Summit Avenue in Richardson Park, southwest of downtown Wilmington, for “about eight years” prior to his military service. That suggested that he was there from 1932 or 1934 onward, but he was not recorded at that address on the 1940 census. 


Military Career

Private 1st Class Wescoat went on active duty in the U.S. Army on September 16, 1940, when the 198th Coast Artillery unit was federalized in Wilmington. He was discharged the following year, presumably just prior to November 18, 1941, when he registered for the draft. The exact reason for his discharge is unclear, but he may have requested it due to his age based on a policy announced on August 19, 1941. In his book, The Rise of the G.I. Army, 1940–1941, Paul Dickson wrote that 

the Associated Press in a totally unexpected story revealed that despite the provisions of the draft extension bill, the Army was planning to release a selected 200,000 draftees, Guardsmen, and Reservists before Christmas, meaning that these men would have served, on average, less than 18 months rather than the 30 months just authorized by Congress. […] These early releases were not automatic; men had to request them. Those with a proven hardship would be released first, followed by married men and those who would be 28 years of age or older by July 1, 1942. 

After his discharge, Wescoat returned to Delaware. When he registered for the draft on November 18, 1941, he was unemployed and living at 6 East Summit Avenue in Richardson Park.  

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Wescoat was recalled to active duty in the U.S. Army effective January 15, 1942. According to his military paperwork, Wescoat served with the 716th Military Police Battalion at Fort Wadsworth, New York from January 26, 1942, to July 24, 1942.  

Wescoat was promoted to corporal prior to July 11, 1942, when the Wilmington Morning News reported: 

Corp. Robert A. Wescoat of the 716th M. P. Battalion, Jersey City, N. J., is visiting Mr. And Mrs. William Nixon, 6 East Summit Avenue, Richardson Park, on a five-day furlough.  Prior to entering the Army, Corporal Wescoat lived about eight years at the Richardson Park address.  He expects to enter officers’ training school upon his return to the Army. 

If Wescoat attended Officer Candidate School (O.C.S.), he did not graduate. At some point he was reduced in grade, as Wescoat was a private 1st class rather than a corporal by July 1944. He apparently served with 716th Military Police Battalion at Camp Ripley, Minnesota (July 26, 1942 – December 14, 1942), followed by Camp Philips, Kansas (December 16, 1942 – May 18, 1943). On May 19, 1943, he reported to the Charleston Port of Embarkation in South Carolina. This may have been where he joined the 328th Harbor Craft Company, a U.S. Army Transportation Corps unit.  

U.S. Army tugboat ST-344, seen here at Plymouth, England, on March 20, 1944, was similar to Wescoat’s ST-75. ST-344 sank in July 1944. (Official U.S. Army Signal Corps photo 111-SC-314381, National Archives)
A U.S. Army tugboat pulling a barge at Cherbourg on November 29, 1944 (Official U.S. Army Signal Corps photo 111-SC-197705, National Archives)

According to documents in his Individual Deceased Personnel File (I.D.P.F.), Wescoat was a deckhand aboard the small tug ST-75, under the command of Warrant Officer (Junior Grade) Vatroslav E. Hollos (1916–1999). Hollos later recalled that Wescoat joined the crew on May 23, 1944, shortly before Hollos assumed command of the ST-75 around June 1. 

Around 1500 hours on July 18, 1944, ST-75 sailed from England. A contemporary document about Transportation Corps port unit losses in Normandy during July 1944 stated: 

Late on the afternoon of July 18th Harbor Craft Cos. 328 and 335, together with one other company attached to another port, sailed from Southampton for Cherbourg in a convoy of about 67 small boats under the protection of an escort from the Royal Navy.  About the middle of the night the boats got separated in a dense fog and some of them got lost.  All either reached Cherbourg on the 19th in safety, or returned to England, with the exception of ST – 75 of the 328th Harbor Craft Co.  Five of the boats, including the ST – 75 were in a group together and sighted land at 1000 hrs, the following morning but were fired upon as they approached the shore.  The craft turned away, put to land again at another point and were driven off the second time by shell fire.  The maters, who did not have charts or accurate compasses, then realized they were in the channel islands and set a course to the north. 

Map depicting the Channel Islands and the Cotentin peninsula (National Archives via Fold3)

The Channel Islands were a British possession in the English Channel, off the coast of Normandy. After the fall of France in 1940, the British considered the islands indefensible. The Germans soon occupied and began fortifying the islands. Even after the invasion of Normandy, Allied planners elected to bypass the islands and they remained under German control until the end of the war. The document continued: 

Just as they started off fire was again opened by shore guns at about 2000 yards.  The first round took off the aftermast of the ST-75; part of the second round send fragments thru the wheelhouse of another boat, the crew of which saw the ST-75 receive two more hits, one in the galley and the other amidships setting her on fire. 

In a statement dated June 2, 1945, Hollos (now a 2nd lieutenant) recalled that the tug was hit off Aldernay at around 1520 hours and that he ordered the crew to abandon the tug five minutes later. He continued: 

While the crew was abandoning the ship I went back to my cabin to destroy any secret papers in my file.  When I came back on deck I called to members of my crew, Sgt Byrd and Pfc Young to give a hand to throw the life raft overboard and start immediately gathering the crew on the raft and the wounded engineer M/Sgt [Jeffrie T.] Gardner was first.  After having put all the men on the raft we saw that Pfc Wescoat was missing and then we saw him standing on the deck and screaming.  Everybody on the raft kept calling him and telling him to jump in the water and I gave him a direct order to do so – but he did not pay any attention and instead of that he went up on the upper deck and began waving a white sheet. 

There was continuous enemy fire and as the strong current was separating the raft from the burning ship it was impossible to go back to the ship and force Pfc Wescoat into the water. 

I also realized the danger of losing nine lives instead of one because of the large amount of fuel stored on boar[d] which was subject to direct hits from enemy shore batteries, it would mean sure death to everybody on the raft thus we had to get away from the ship as soon as possible. 

Master Sergeant Gardner died in the raft prior to rescue. ST-75’s survivors were rescued by the Canadian escort destroyer H.M.C.S. Qu’Appelle. After the war, in 1947, American authorities consulted French naval experts in Cherbourg about the case. They stated that due to strong currents, it was likely that ST-75 “has drifted away or is completely covered with sand and debris at this time” and that even if the wreck could be located, it would be too dangerous for a diver to attempt to find Private 1st Class Wescoat’s body. The War Department declared his body non-recoverable. 

Journal-Every Evening reported on October 16, 1947, that Wescoat would be memorialized on “A bronze plaque in memory of the members of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in Delaware who lost their lives in World War II” at Odd Fellows Hall in Wilmington. Private 1st Class Wescoat is also honored on the Tablets of the Missing at the Brittany American Cemetery and at Veterans Memorial Park in New Castle, Delaware.  


Notes

Wife 

Puzzlingly, Wescoat’s military paperwork listed his next of kin as a wife, Anna L. Wescoat, of 6 East Summit Avenue in Wilmington. The State of Delaware Public Archives sent a questionnaire to the Nixons at that address with her name filled in, but Mrs. Nixon wrote: “No such person as his wife, Anna.” 

Time of Engagement 

One document suggests that the ST-75 was sunk during the morning given that the enemy short batteries engaged the convoy at 1000 hours. On the other hand, documents in Wescoat’s I.D.P.F. suggested that the tug was lost in fog until the afternoon, was hit at 1520 hours, and “sank at 2100 hours.” 


Bibliography

“Cherbourg Notes, Freight Section.” Administrative History Collection, Historical Section, ETOUSA. Record Group 498, Records of Headquarters, European Theater of Operations, United States Army 1942–1947. National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://www.fold3.com/image/290419636  

Dickson, Paul. The Rise of the G.I. Army 1940–1941: The Forgotten Story of How America Forged a Powerful Army Before Pearl Harbor. Atlantic Monthly Press, 2020. 

Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. Record Group 29, Records of the Bureau of the Census. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6224/images/4660847_00358  

Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920. Record Group 29, Records of the Bureau of the Census. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6061/images/4313320-00715  

Nixon, Ella B. Robert A. Wescoat Individual Military Service Record, September 1, 1949. Record Group 1325-003-053, Record of Delawareans Who Died in World War II.  Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://cdm16397.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15323coll6/id/21609/rec/1  

“Odd Fellows Plan Tribute.” Journal-Every Evening, October 16, 1947. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/109949003/wescoat-ioof/  

Robert A. Wescoat Individual Deceased Personnel File. Courtesy of U.S. Army Human Resources Command. 

Robt. Albert Wescoat certificate of birth. Pennsylvania Birth Certificates, 1906–1913. Record Group 11, Series 11.89, Records of the Department of the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/60484/images/47550_2421401755_0187-03336  

“With the Service Men.” Wilmington Morning News, July 11, 1942. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/109948177/wescoat-furlough/  

World War II Army Enlistment Records. Record Group 64, Records of the National Archives and Records Administration. National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://aad.archives.gov/aad/record-detail.jsp?dt=893&mtch=1&cat=all&tf=F&q=20255980&bc=&rpp=10&pg=1&rid=1897843  

WWII Draft Registration Cards for Delaware, 10/16/1940–3/31/1947. Record Group 147, Records of the Selective Service System. National Archives at St. Louis, Missouri. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2238/images/44003_04_00009-01020  


Last updated on December 7, 2022

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