While traveling to New Guinea, his transport ship, Jacob, was struck by enemy bombers on March 8, 1943, and began to sink.
A competent swimmer, Private Watson assisted other soldiers to life rafts. The suction from Jacob's submersion, however, pulled him under prior to his entering a life raft.
His body was never recovered. These actions earned him a Congressional Medal of Honor.
As an orphan, the U.S. Army retained his medals and they are currently on display at the U.S. Army Quartermaster Museum in Fort Lee, Virginia.