The tragedy of Robert “Bobby” L. Leopold’s death aboard the U.S.S. Arizona was compounded barely 27 months later and half a world away when the destroyer escort named in his honor was sunk by a German U-boat.
The young ensign was one of 1,177 men killed on the Arizona in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941. When two German torpedoes hit the U.S.S. Leopold (DE 319) in March 1944 south of Iceland, 171 crew members died. Just 28 were rescued.
Mr. Leopold was born in Kentucky on Nov. 11, 1916, and became a lawyer like his father, Lawrence. His mother, Irma, was a homemaker. The young man graduated from Louisville Male High and obtained a law degree from the University of Louisville in 1940.
He volunteered for the Naval Reserve Officer Training program that July and studied as a midshipman at Northwestern University’s Chicago campus. Out of a class of 650 he was one of 332 commissioned as ensigns in early December by a then relatively unknown rear admiral named Chester Nimitz.
The destroyer escort named for the ensign was launched in June 1943 at Orange, Texas in ceremonies attended by his family, including sister Katherine, who had joined the WAVES — the women’s U.S. Naval Reserve. A University of Michigan graduate, she too became an ensign, and served in Washington, D.C.
The University of Louisville named a building in Mr. Leopold’s memory. It was first used as a military barracks and later as a women’s dormitory. It was razed in 1979. He had been president of the Student Council as an undergraduate and was a member of the law school honor council.
Mr. Leopold and another ensign, E.K. Olsen, were in charge of the swim team on the Arizona. Swimming was one of several sports in which the crew competed against teams from other ships.
Sources: The Courier-Journal of Louisville, Kentucky; At ‘Em Arizona ship newspaper; University of Louisville yearbook; U.S. Census; marriage certificate; University of Central Florida; University of Louisville digital library; the Michigan Alumnus magazine; Kentucky birth index. This profile was researched and written on behalf of the U.S.S. Arizona Mall Memorial at the University of Arizona.