Robert A. Muller

Service Number: 8151322 
Rank: Electrician’s Mate, 3rd Class
Outfit: U.S. Naval Operating Facility #120, Recife, Brazil.

1107 W. Kings Hwy.
Robert August Muller Jr. was born on November 12, 1910 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to parents, Robert Sr. and Lena (Munz) Muller. Robert Sr. was a saloon operator in Philadelphia and Lena was a housekeeper. The Mullers had 3 more children after the birth of Robert Jr. Frederick was born in 1912, Francis in 1913, and William in 1916. The family moved from 2215 South Third Street in South Philadelphia to 1107 West Kings Highway in Mount Ephraim some time around 1915. Robert Sr. found employment as a shipfitter at a ship yard in Gloucester City. On the morning of October 8, 1919, a piece of iron plating fell from an unknown height, striking him in the head. The impact killed him instantly. He was only 43 years of age.

Robert attended elementary school for eight years, and completed his freshman year at Camden Catholic High School before dropping out in 1926. He found work at the Bell Telephone Company in Philadelphia and stayed employed with them for 17 years. His first 3 years were spent as a messenger. He then went on to complete eight weeks of specialized training to become a telephone installer. With this new position, Robert was responsible for installation and maintenance of telephone station equipment, inside and outside wiring, switching key equipment, pay stations and associated apparatus. The duties also included climbing telephone poles, and making repairs to damaged equipment in emergency situations. This job would increase his take-home pay to $56 a week. Outside of work, Muller enjoyed fishing and music. He was also involved with the Mount Ephraim Civil Defense as a member of the air raid warden unit.

122 Fifth Ave.
On June 27, 1936, Robert married Katherine M. Levy at Sacred Heart Church in Camden, officiated by Reverend James E. Moore. Margaret Green was the Maid of Honor and Robert’s brother Frederick was his best man. The wedding reception was held back at the home of the bride’s father, Louis Levy on Northmont Avenue. The newlyweds lived in Haddon Heights and then Audubon until purchasing a house at 122 Fifth Avenue in Mount Ephraim in 1941.

The attack of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 affected all of America. Young men from all over the country filled with patriotic pride went to their local recruiting stations to join the armed forces. All four of the Muller brothers answered the call and served in the navy. Robert joined the U.S. Navy Reserves at the Armed Forces Induction Center in Camden on September 13, 1943 and was put on inactive status. His brother Francis had enlisted earlier on March 15, 1943 and Frederick joined on August 21, 1943. A farewell party was held for Fred five days later at the Spread Eagle Inn, where Katherine's family ran the establishment. Mount Ephraim Mayor J. Herbert Phillips was a guest speaker at the event. William had enlisted on August 13, 1935, long before the breakout of war.

Robert was recalled to active status on September 20, 1943 and sent to the Naval Training Station in Bainbridge, Maryland. He arrived there later that day and began his 7 weeks of training as a Apprentice Seaman. At the end of his first week, he was recommended for Aviation Electrician Mate School but unfortunately failed the required eye test. By November 11th, Robert completed schooling at Bainbridge and was promoted to Seaman Second Class (S2c). He was granted a nine-day leave and returned to see his wife and mother in Mount Ephraim. At the completion of his leave, Robert reported on November 27 to the Naval Receiving Station in New York City to be shipped to the Navy Operating Facility (NOF #120) in Recife, Brazil for duty.

USS Antaeus
On December 8th, 1943, Seaman 2nd Class Robert A. Muller departed the New York Harbor aboard the USS Antaeus (AG-67) sailing for the Caribbean. The ship arrived on December 16th and S2c Muller spent 5 days in Trinidad before boarding another ship, the USS Spry (PG-64) on December 21st for the final leg of his journey to Brazil.

In the U.S. Navy, when a ship crosses the equator, a time-honored tradition takes place. The ceremony observes a mariner’s transformation from slimy Pollywog, a seaman who hasn’t crossed the equator, to trusty Shellback, also called a Son or Daughter of Neptune. First, King Neptune and his royal court, Davy Jones, the royal baby, and other dignitaries would arrive aboard the ship. Pollywogs then entertained the royal court with a talent show. Following the show, Pollywogs received a subpoena from Davy Jones to stand before the court and answer to charges brought against them by the Shellbacks. Afterwards, the Pollywogs ate an unpleasant “breakfast,” consisting of some kind of spicy food. 

The accused Pollywogs would appear before King Neptune, who sat in judgment. They performed a variety of activities which might involve wearing their clothes inside out or backwards and crawling across the deck through objectionable debris, often the uneatable breakfast that was served to them. The Pollywogs then kneeled before the King and would have to “kiss" the royal baby’s belly. The royal baby was the most obese and hairy sailor that could be found aboard the ship. His belly was usually covered in some unpleasant substance. Lastly, the Pollywogs were required to take a royal bath in a pool of sea water before being declared "Shellbacks," after which they receive their certificate.

USS Spry
On December 30, 1943, the Spry had crossed the Equator and S2c Muller had been duly initiated a “Shellback.” Robert arrived at the U.S. Naval Operating Facility in Recife, Brazil on January 5th 1944. He received a commendation from Commanding Officer Lt. B.F. Uran stating that Muller proved to be above average in duty while aboard USS Spry.

Recife was the main base for the surface ships of the Fourth Fleet which consisted of destroyers, cruisers, service vessels and aircraft carriers. Numerous naval installations were established in Recife, including the Headquarters of the Fourth Fleet, Ibura Field (air field), barracks, a naval hospital, fuel, oil, & ordinance storage depots, a ship repair facility and training centers. Ibura Field became the second largest Brazilian-US air base and was used by squadrons from both countries.
Fourth Fleet Area

The objective of the Fourth Fleet was to dominate the strategically important Atlantic Narrows between Natal, Brazil and the Freetown – Accra portion of Africa by finding and destroying Axis Power submarines and blockade runners who were funneling essential war materials from the far-eastern Japanese empire through the South Atlantic Narrows between Brazil and Africa into Europe. An additional purpose was to halt the sinking of Brazilian and other Allied merchant ships by the Axis Power’s naval units. Because the Mediterranean Sea was hazardous for Allied shipping, control of the South Atlantic Narrows was strategically critical.

While serving at NOF #120, Muller was promoted on April 1, 1944, from Seaman 2nd Class to Seaman 1st Class (S1c). Three months later, he was promoted again to Electrician’s Mate 3rd Class (EM3c). This job required maintaining and repairing all electrical circuits, wiring and equipment. A title that suited Robert well, thanks to his years of experience working for the telephone company.

On December 9, 1944, Robert was working on one of the telephone poles at the naval base when he accidentally fell off and struck his head. Directly after his fall, Robert was found disoriented, excitable, irrational and in mild shock. He was admitted to the naval hospital where x-rays revealed fractures in the skull and left patella. Muller later became unconscious, lasting for nearly 48 hours following the incident. Upon sitting up on December 12th, Robert complained of a having a headache. A battery of tests were performed to check the extent of his injuries.

His condition improved and Robert was removed from serious condition on December 31, 1944. A telegram was sent to both Lena and Katherine to inform them of the good news. Clinical improvement was sufficient enough to allow surgery to repair the fractured knee cap. The convalescence successfully continued until February 26th, at which time he started to become drowsy and stuporous.

Doctors initially diagnosed Robert as suffering from chronic encephalitis on March 10th, but changed their diagnosis two days later to a sub-dural hemorrhage. At the time, it was noted that he had weakness of left side of mouth, left arm and leg. The Navy Department notified Lena and Katherine to update the two of the situation. Doctors were listing his condition as critical. The order was given on March 21st to evacuate Muller from Recife to the nearest Naval Hospital in the United States. He was transported by aircraft thee days later to the Naval Hospital in Key West, Florida. Doctors once again performed a complete physical examination. It was confirmed that Robert had paralysis of the left side of his body.

After an emergency surgical procedure on March 29th, Robert's condition improved rapidly. He regained full use of the left side of his body and placed on an intensive penicillin therapy. By April 13th, Robert turn a severe turn for the worse. He developed a marked tremor of his left hand and a fever, raising his temperature to 103. These conditions persisted until Robert suddenly died at 3:27am on April 16, 1945. He was 34 years of age. 

 At the time of Robert’s death, all of his brothers were on active duty. Frederick was serving as a Gunner's Mate 3rd Class (GM3c) aboard the USS O'Reilly (DE-330). This was a destroyer escort which protected shipping convoys across the Atlantic Ocean and later re-assigned to the Pacific Fleet.

Francis was a Boatswain 2nd Class (BM2) aboard the USS Warren (APA-53). The Warren was an attack transport which ferried troops and cargo to locations throughout the Pacific Theatre. After participating in several campaigns, the Warren was sent to Portland, Oregon to be overhauled.

William Muller
William was a Chief Signalman (CSM) aboard the USS Westmoreland (APA-104). This ship was also an attack transport but was commissioned too late into the war to participate in combat. It did eventually transport servicemen back to the United States from the Philippines after the surrender of Japan. William had been training off the coast of Hawaii at the time of Robert's passing.

Robert was survived by his wife Katherine (who would later re-marry to Harry A. Albinson, Jr.), his mother Lena, and brothers Frederick, Francis, and William.

The viewing was held at McCann Funeral Home in Gloucester City on April 19, 1945. All members of the Mount Ephraim Civil Defense were in attendance. Funeral services were held the next day with High Mass at Sacred Heart Church in Mount Ephraim with interment afterwards at New St. Mary’s Cemetery in Bellmawr, NJ.

Robert, Lena, and William Muller grave marker

May their sacrifice never be forgotten.


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