Born: October 31, 1899
Died: January 18, 1961
Plot: Section 10, Plot 24
William R. Hapgood was born in Philadelphia to parents Herbert Cecil Hapgood (1876-1945) and Frances G. Anderson Hapgood (1875-1922). They lived at 3414 Hamilton St. in the Powelton Village section of University City, Philadelphia. In the 1920 Census the father listed his occupation as a reporter for a mercantile agency.
In his early 20’s he distinguished himself in the sport of singles and doubles scull boat racing. He raced out of the Bachelors Barge Club, one of the club houses situated along Boat House Row on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. The Club was founded in 1854 and today holds the distinction of being the oldest continuously operating boat house in the U.S.
The photo of two men in a scull is Hapgood and Garrett Gilmore who had just won the national doubles championship in 1923. Hapgood is in the back of the picture sitting in the boat’s “bow position” while the man in front of the picture is Gilmore sitting in the “stroke position.” The next year, 1924, Hapgood was selected as an alternate rower at the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris.
One of the most famous rowers of that era was John B. Kelly, Sr, who was also from Phila. He won Olympic Gold Medals in the singles and doubles scull racing in 1920, and Gold in the doubles 1924 Olympic races. Rowing for the Vesper Boat Club he also won 126 straight single scull races without a loss. In his personal life he was the father of Jack Kelly Jr., another winning scull rower in the 1940s and 1950s. Sr. was also the father of Grace Kelly who was a beautiful movie star who married the Prince of Monaco.
Hapgood entered the U.S. Naval Reserve on October 22, 1943 as an officer and on March 22, 1944 he was ordered to an Escort Aircraft Carrier the USS ALTAMAHA (CVE-18). An Escort Carrier is a smaller version of the large aircraft carrier. The escort carrier is about 495 feet long, has 24 planes of its own, a crew of 970, & travels at 17 knots. A large Essex Class Carrier like the Yorktown or the Hornet is 875 feet long, carries 90 planes, has a crew of 3,450, and travels at 33 knots. During the war the U.S. built a total of 151 carriers of all sizes, and 122 of these were escort carriers.
The assignments given to the escort carriers were: to escort convoys and defend them from enemy threats such as submarines and planes, provide air support to ground forces during amphibious operations, serve as backup aircraft transports for fleet carriers, and ferried equipment, supplies, and aircraft of all military services to points of delivery.
The Altamata’s encounters with enemy submarines were fairly rare. The first was just a month after its initial commissioning in September 1942 when they were sailing to San Diego along with the destroyer USS Kendrick. Members of the destroyer reported they had seen three torpedoes that had been fired at the escort. No one on the escort observed the torpedoes and they continued on without incident. A second encounter occurred in April, 1944 just after Hapgood had arrived on his new duty ship. They were in a task group which included four other escort carriers. The group reported contacting two submarines but did not receive credit for damaging or destroying either.
The most serious event in the ship’s history was not combat related. It was caused by nature. On December 16, 1944 the ship joined a task force in the Philippine Sea and the next day started to transfer pilots to the destroyer USS Buchanan. Heavy seas then compelled her to break off the task. The next morning the storm had grown into a raging typhoon. The ship was laboring heavily and rolling as much as 25-30 degrees to either side. An hour later visibility dropped to zero, and the vessel abandoned all effort to keep station. During the chaos half the planes broke loose and plunged overboard. The ship also experienced flooding in the forward elevator pit. The storm finally started abating at 1600 hours on the 18th and they were able to resume the transfer process on the 19th. While the carrier sustained considerable material damage there were no personnel casualties.
The Altamaha spent the War in the Pacific Theatre, and Hapgood stayed with ship until the war was over He was discharged from the service as a Lieutenant Commander (LCDR) on January 10, 1946.
Hapgood married Mary E. Crosby (born in 1903) in 1921 in Philadelphia. They had two children: Mary Elizabeth (born in 1924) and William (born in 1934).
He worked as on oil salesman and lived in a number of residences: Harrisburg, PA, Albany, NY, Irondequoit, NY and died in 1961 while living in Newark, NJ. His wife died in 1988 and is buried in the same plot as her husband.
Philly.com recently covered our “No Dumping” signs and the work of the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery to restore this historic site.
The work of board member Sam Ricks, the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, and student volunteers to identify “unknown” soldiers was featured on Philly.com.