William M. DeShields (1942/03/01)

William DeShields, the cruiser USS Houston, and the Sunda Straits all triangulated at the wrong time.

William Martin DeShields was born in Fresno County California, on June 12, 1912, to Mr. and Mrs. Lewis DeShields. In 1920 he and his sister Mildred were living with their father in Fresno, who was a "packing house" superintendent.

William entered the US Navy sometime in the 1930s and received boot camp training in San Diego. By 1942 he had risen to the rank of quartermaster first class and was serving aboard the heavy cruiser USS Houston.

On February 26, 1942 a large Japanese convoy was seen moving toward the Java Sea and the Houston, along with Dutch and British vessels under the command of Dutch Vice Admiral Karel W.F.M. Doorman, was ordered to intercept and destroy it. The Japanese fleet was encountered and the Battle of the Java Sea commenced. Following that encounter, the Battle of the Sunda Strait took place on March 1, 1942.

Before losing contact with Perth and Houston, Doorman had ordered them to retire. This was accomplished, but the next day the two ships steamed into Banten Bay, hoping to damage the Japanese invasion forces there. The cruisers were almost torpedoed as they approached the bay, but evaded the nine torpedoes launched by destroyer Fubuki.

The cruisers then sank one transport and forced three others to beach. A destroyer squadron blocked Sunda Strait, their means of retreat, and on the other hand large cruisers Mogami and Mikuma stood dangerously near. The resulting battle was foreordained, but Houston and Perth could not withdraw. Perth came under fire at 23:36 and in an hour had been sunk from gunfire and torpedo hits. Houston
then fought alone until soon after midnight, when she took a torpedo and began to lose headway. During this time Houston's gunners scored hits on three different destroyers and sank a minesweeper, but suffered three more torpedo explosions in quick succession. Captain Albert Rooks was killed by a bursting shell at 00:30 and as the ship came to a stop Japanese destroyers moved in, machine gunning the decks. A few minutes later the Houston rolled over and sank, her ensign still flying. Of the original crew of 1,061 only 368 survived.

The body of Quartermaster First Class William M. DeShields was never recovered, and the Navy officially declared him dead on December 15, 1945. He is memorialized on the Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery. His awards include the Purple Heart.
(CBR; USCR, 1920 US Census, CA, Fresno; ABMC; SCSn May
15, 1942 1:2; USNM; WIKI, USS Houston CL/CA-30)

Creator: Nelson, Robert L.
Source: Remembering our own: the Santa Cruz County military roll of honor 1861-2010. Santa Cruz, CA: The Museum of Art & History, c2010.
Date: Undated
Type: OBIT
Coverage: 1940s
Rights: Reproduced by permission of Robert L. Nelson and The Museum of Art and History.
Identifier: RO-DESHIELDS


Nelson, Robert L. “William M. DeShields (1942/03/01).” Remembering our own: the Santa Cruz County military roll of honor 1861-2010. Santa Cruz, CA: The Museum of Art & History, c2010. SCPL Local History. https://history.santacruzpl.org/omeka/items/show/4360. Accessed 24 May 2024.