Richard B. Anderson receives the Medal of Honor posthumously on August 17, 1944.

  • By Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph.D.
  • Posted 5/05/2015
  • Essay 11035
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On August 17, 1944, Richard B. Anderson (1921-1944) receives the Medal of Honor posthumously. His stepmother, Mrs. Oscar Anderson (1902-1974), accepts the medal. The ceremony takes place in front of the Naval Station at Pier 91, Seattle. Private First Class Richard B. Anderson was serving in Company E, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marines when it invaded the Japanese-held island of Roi, Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands. During the invasion Private First Class Anderson jumped into a deep shell crater, joining three other Marines seeking shelter from intense enemy fire. Anderson carried a box of grenades for the attack on the Japanese. He removed a grenade and pulled the pin. As he went to throw the grenade, he accidentally dropped it, and it fell to the bottom of the shell crater. There was no time to recover it and safely throw it away. To protect his buddies, Anderson leaped on the grenade and saved three lives at the cost of his own life. Seriously wounded, he was evacuated to a ship’s hospital ward, where he died that day.

From Sequim to the Marines 

Richard B. Anderson was born in Tacoma. The family lived for several years in Everett and then moved to Agnew near Sequim, where Richard grew up. He attended Macleary School and graduated from Sequim High School. Following graduation he worked in the Richmond, California, shipyards for 11 months. Anderson's mother died in 1940.

On July 16, 1942, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. He took basic training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, and his advanced training at nearby Camp Elliott. On April 12, 1943, he was promoted to private first class.

Private First Class Anderson was assigned to Company E, 2nd Battalion, 23d Marines, 4th Marine Division. For the remainder of 1943, the division engaged in combat training.  In January 1944 it went to the Pacific and was the first division to go into combat directly from the United States.

A Day at War

On February 1, 1944, the 23d Marines invaded the Japanese-held Roi Island, Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands. They advanced across Roi Island under heavy enemy fire. The island was pockmarked with large shell craters from the pre-invasion bombardment. 

Private First Class Anderson, a mortar man, was, for unknown reasons, on the front line and not in the rear with his mortar crew. Running across the enemy airfield, he sought safety in a large shell crater that was 15 feet deep. He joined three other marines in the shell crater. Anderson removed a grenade from the box he'd carried in, pulled the pin and went to throw it, but accidentally dropped it. The grenade fell to the bottom of the deep crater. 

Private First Class Anderson did not have time to recover it and safely throw it away. To save his buddies, he jumped on the grenade. He received serious wounds and was evacuated to the USS Callaway, where he died that day.

Bringing a Hero Home

Some accounts suggest he was buried at sea. In fact, he was laid to rest in the Roi-Namur Marine Cemetery. This was a temporary cemetery for those who died in the invasion of the twin islands of Roi and Namur, which the Japanese had connected.

After the war, the temporary cemeteries across the Pacific were closed. The next of kin had the option of bringing the remains home for burial in local cemeteries or burial in National Cemeteries such as the American Military Cemetery, Manila. His father, Oscar Anderson (1887-1964), elected to bring him home. A transport ship brought the remains to Tacoma in January 1949. Private First Class Anderson was buried in the New Tacoma Cemetery, Tacoma (now University Place).

On May 14, 1997, his grave received a special Medal of Honor marker.  

On August 17, 1944, the posthumous Medal of Honor was presented to his stepmother, Mrs. Oscar Anderson, at a ceremony at the Naval Station Seattle (today the Smith Cove Cruise Ship Terminal). Rear Admiral Sherwoode Taffinder (1884-1965), Commandant of the 13th Naval District, made the presentation outdoors in front of the Pier 91 Seattle Naval Station headquarters building. This later became a parking lot for the Cruise Terminal.

Remembering Richard B. Anderson   

On July 7, 1945, the destroyer USS Richard B. Anderson, DD 786, was launched from the Todd Pacific Shipyards, Harbor Island, Seattle. Richard's brother, Robert L. Anderson (b. 1924), attended along with their stepmother. Motor Machinist Robert L. Anderson was one of the original crew of the USS Richard B. Anderson. The destroyer was a regular visitor to Puget Sound with dockings at Pier 91 and the Puget Sound Navy Shipyard. It served in the Korean War and in Vietnam, earning battle stars in both.

The USS Richard B. Anderson was decommissioned on December 20, 1975. It was transferred to the Republic of China (Taiwan) in June 1977 and renamed the Kai Yang. The Kai Yang served until November 16, 1999.

The Federal Building in Port Angeles, Washington, was named the Richard B. Anderson Building. On September 2, 2008, a dedication ceremony was held at the building and a display of artifacts from the USS Richard B. Anderson exhibited.

A monument to Richard B. Anderson is located in Port Angeles at Highway 101 and E 3rd Street.

Sources: Donald K. and Helen L. Ross, Washington State Men of Valor (Burley, Washington: Coffee Break Press, 1980); "Beyond the Call Of Duty," The Seattle Times, August 18, 1944, p. 19; "Lieutenant Given Medal of Honor," Bellingham Herald, August 28, 1944, p. 8; "Destroyer Will Go Into Service," The Seattle Times, October 25, 1945, p. 30.

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