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Retired Navy officer finds the lost USS Samuel B. Roberts

A Navy destroyer that was lost during the largest ocean battle of World War II has been found more than four miles down in the Philippine Sea.

Victor Vescovo, a Navy officer turned ocean explorer and adventurer, announced late last week that he found the USS Samuel B. Roberts split in two, 78 years after it was sunk during the Battle off Samar. That encounter took place near Samar Island near the end of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, when Japanese battleships, cruisers and destroyers surprised American forces in the early morning near Samar Island.

Four ships would be sunk: USS Gambier Bay, USS Hoel, USS Johnston and USS Samuel B. Roberts, also known as the Sammy B by the crew. But the U.S. fleet made its presence felt and took out three of Japan’s cruisers, forcing Japan to withdraw.

Vescovo said June 18 his team was off Samar Island, and on June 23 they announced the finding of a torpedo rack from the ship.

The Navy confirmed Vescovo’s finding Monday and said it was the deepest shipwreck ever located and surveyed.

“USS Samuel B. Roberts (DE 413) was the first ship named for Coxswain Samuel Booker Roberts, Jr., who was killed in the Battle of Guadalcanal,” the Navy said. “Commissioned April 28, 1944, the destroyer escort was lost that same year during the Battle off Samar when it, along with several other U.S. warships, engaged Japanese forces off the Philippine coast and selflessly put itself in harm’s way to protect U.S. invasion forces in Leyte Gulf.”

The Sammy B went down in history as the “destroyer escort that fought like a battleship.”

“USS Samuel B. Roberts was lost in one of the most valiant actions in the history of the U.S. Navy,” said Naval History and Heritage Command Director Samuel Cox, a retired rear admiral. “The gallantry of her crew serves to inspire U.S. Navy personnel today, knowing they are entrusted with upholding the legacy and example of this ship and crew.”

The Navy said the site of the wreckage is now considered protected by the Sunken Military Craft Act, which authorizes fines against anyone who disturbs the site. Archaeologists and historians can seek permission to more closely explore the site, but the Navy said, “There are no plans to disturb USS Samuel B. Roberts.”

“The site of the wreck marks the location of a hallowed war grave,” Cox said. “It serves to remind all Americans of the great cost born by previous generations for the freedom we should not take for granted today.”

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