Unknown Sailor

MATT1c Robert Nelson Carpenter

Robert Nelson Carpenter was born Aug. 12, 1915, in Pittsburgh. His mother, Margaret Oliver Carpenter, was a homemaker and his father, Rhalston Carpenter, a railroad worker.

The son enlisted in the Navy on Oct. 1, 1934. He was a mess attendant first class on the U.S.S. Arizona when he was killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

Messman was the only branch of the Navy open to Mr. Carpenter because he was African-American. Messmen cooked, cleaned and performed other service tasks. The Messman Branch accepted men who were Black, Filipino or Guamanium. They could become first class petty officers as stewards or cooks for officers, but from 1913 that was their limit in the segregated Navy.

Mr. Carpenter was survived by his widow, Dorothy Bright Carpenter. They married in 1939 at a Baptist church in Norfolk, Virginia.

His brothers, both younger, also served in World War II — Julius in the Army from May 1942 through December 1945 and William in the Navy from February 1943 through March 1946.


Sources: Census; Navy muster rolls; Commonwealth of Pennsylvania World War II Veterans’ Compensation Bureau; grave markers. This profile was researched and written on behalf of the U.S.S. Arizona Mall Memorial at the University of Arizona.

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