Mystery revolves around missing decorated WW2 submariner

Last fall, a hunter found of priceless treasures at the base of a tree in a forested area in Mena, Arkansas. The box contained military honors and medals, yet, the hunter had no hint as to who the box belonged to save for a name engraved on the medals.

After the discovery, the medals were handed to a funeral home in Mena. For a year, the Arkansas funeral home searched for the owner of the military awards. The search bore finally bore fruit.

The medals were awarded to U.S. Navy sailor Robert Williford who still remained missing at sea since his last mission during the World War II in 1944.

“It sounds like an old episode of Unsolved Mysteries,” said Ken Hoyle, Ute Mountain Post No. 75 Adjutant.

The closest relative of the missing submariner was traced by the Arkansas funeral home by extensively researching on the genealogy. They also sent out inquiries on the Internet and were able to trace the nephew of Robert Williford. Wayne Williford, the said relative, is now 77 years old. He was 9 years old when the 19 year old Robert Williford was reported lost at sea.

“We have no idea how the medals ended up in Arkansas. It’s very odd,” said Wayne’s daughter Valley Jean Williford.

Valley Jean Willifrod further said that her great-grandparents moved from North Carolina to settle in Southwest Colorado when her great uncle “Ray” joined the Navy.

“It’s a big surprise and mystery. We had no idea the medals even existed,” said Valley Jean.

The medals and awards issued to the submariner included a Purple Heart, an Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, an American Campaign Medal, a WWII Navy Good Conduct Medal and a WWII Victory Medal. Last November 2 this year, the medals were formally turned over to the submariner’s relatives in a public ceremony at the American Legion Hall. Honoring the submariner during the ceremony is the Ute Mountain Post No. 75 Honor Guard.

“My dad was in the Navy so he’s very excited,” said Valley Jean.


Rick Romero, Captain of the New Mexico Patriot Guard Riders, headed the formal delivery of the awards to the submariner’s relatives in Cortez. His unit has also placed military laurels at the New Mexico Veterans Memorial in Albuquerque to honor Robert Williford. Capt. Romero also saw to personally hand-deliver the medals to Williford’s relatives in Cortez.

“This is a very special package. I feel it’s impersonal to simply ship the case, so we placed an ‘Iron Horse Express’ to deliver the medals in person to the family of a long lost hero,” Romero said.

The Arkansas funeral home also gave their tribute for Williford after the discovery of the medals. The memorial service even included a 21-gun salute for the missing hero.

The military honors were then handed over to the USS Razorback SS -394 Museum in North Little Rock for display while the search went on for the kin of the missing submariner.

US Navy Petty Officer Robert Williford was a Motor Machinist Mate 3rd Class assigned to the USS Scorpion SS-278. The vessel with a crew of seventy-eight sailors was highly regarded due to their many military successes in the World War II including the sinking of many Japanese vessels –gunboat, freighter, merchant vessel, passenger-cargo ship, and two combat vessels. They are also credited for the destruction of many multiple sampans or flat-bottom boats of the Japanese.

The ship was also recorded to have received three battle stars. It is one of the 20 boats of her class who went missing during the World War II.

The Cortez Journal reports that the USS Scorpion was last seen by the crew of USS Herring somewhere either in the East China Sea or Yellow Sea on January 5, 1944. The Scorpion had been attacked on three occasions. After 18 months of commissioning, the Scorpion was officially declared missing on March 6, 1944.



Siegphyl is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE