S1c Robert Kenneth Jr. Willis

Unknown Sailor

S1c Robert Kenneth Jr. Willis

Robert Kenneth Willis Jr. worked as a librarian at a public school in April 1940 in Natchitoches, Louisiana 70 miles southeast of Shreveport. It was probably a part-time job because the Census reported that he earned just $54 for 26 weeks of work the previous year, about $1,000 in 2022 dollars.

Mr. Willis was born Feb. 2, 1923 in tiny Chopin about 25 miles southeast of Natchitoches to Robert Kenneth Willis Sr. and Julia Mae Johnson Willis. From at least 1925 the family lived about 40 miles southwest in Leesville, population circa 2,600.

Iin February 1934 the mother died when Bobby, as the family called the boy, was 11. At some point after April 1, 1935 he moved to Natchitoches with his two younger brothers to live with a half-sister and her family while the father was in Pineville near Alexandria.

He graduated from Natchitoches High School in 1939 or 1940 and enlisted in the Navy on July 31, 1940. After training in San Diego he was aboard the U.S.S. Arizona on Oct. 8.

He was a seaman first class on the Arizona when he was killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941.

Bobby’s younger brothers enlisted in the Navy in July 1942.

Their father joined them at the recruiting station in Alexandria. “I am glad to give the boys,” he told a reporter. “They want to fight for our country’s freedom, and I can think of nothing better for them in perilous times like these.”

Brother Dewey Glenn Willis served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Brother Billy Edward Willis served in World War II and Korea.

The American Legion Post in Pineville, Louisiana, was named in honor of Robert Kenneth Willis Jr..


Sources: The Times of Shreveport, Louisiana; the Town Talk of Alexandria, Louisiana; Census; Navy muster roll; grave markers.

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