Robert William Apple was a man who embodied the values of loyalty, hard work, and service. Born on January 4, 1917, in Sterling, Illinois to Frank and Rose Apple, Robert was one of eight siblings. His father, a veteran of the Spanish-American War, had passed away when Robert was just six years old, leaving his mother to raise the family on her own.
Despite the challenges of growing up without a father, Robert was determined to succeed. He attended St. Mary’s Catholic School in Sterling and later graduated from Mooseheart High in Mooseheart, Illinois in 1934. After completing high school, he worked at two barber shops in Sterling before enlisting in the United States Navy on February 9, 1937.
Over the next few years, Robert worked his way up the ranks of the Navy, earning the respect of his fellow sailors and superiors alike. By December 7, 1941, he had reached the rank of fireman first class and was stationed aboard the battleship Arizona.
On that fateful day, Robert’s brother James was stationed on the battleship West Virginia, just a few hundred feet ahead of the Arizona. The two brothers were close and stayed in touch regularly. But their communication was abruptly cut off when the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The Arizona was hit by three bombs, and then a fourth bomb ignited the ship’s forward magazines. The resulting explosion was catastrophic, lifting the front of the ship out of the water before it quickly sank. Robert was among the 1,177 men who lost their lives that day.
James was lucky enough to survive the attack, but he never forgot the sacrifice that his brother had made. A third brother, Paul, had recently joined the Marines and was a private first class stationed in Seattle. He would go on to serve his country with distinction throughout the war, but he would always remember the brother he had lost at Pearl Harbor.
Robert’s obituary described him as “a noble, gallant and brave son, a young man who from his boyhood was characterized by his bright mind, obedience, ambition, and love of family.” His last letter home included a $100 donation for the Mooseheart school building fund, a huge gesture at the time which speaks volumes towards his generous spirit.
Robert’s death was a tragedy that touched the lives of many. His loss was felt deeply by his family, who had already suffered so much with the passing of their father years earlier. But Robert’s sacrifice was not in vain. His service to his country was a testament to his character and his love for his fellow man.
Today, Robert William Apple is remembered as a hero, one of the many brave men who lost their lives in service to their country on that fateful day at Pearl Harbor. His sacrifice will never be forgotten, and his memory will always be honored by those who knew and loved him.
NOTE: If you are a family member related to this crew member of the U.S.S. Arizona, or have additional information, pictures or documents to share about his life or service to our county please contact us through our FAMILY MEMBER SUBMISSION FORM.
Sources: Census records, grave markers, Navy muster rolls. This profile was rewritten by “Operation 85” from the original sourced profile written by Bobbi Jo Buel on behalf of the U.S.S. Arizona Mall Memorial at the University of Arizona.