During World War I he served aboard USS Henderson (AP-1). For meritorious service during a fire on board that ship he received a letter of commendation from the Secretary of the Navy. Detached in August 1918, he served on several destroyers based at Queenstown, Ireland. He remained in the European Waters Detachment after the end of World War I.
Sample attended flight training at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida and was designated a Naval Flight Officer on 23 June 1923. Shortly thereafter he served as Commanding Officer of Scouting Squadron VS-1. In the 1920s he successively served in the Aviation Departments of USS Raleigh (CL-7), USS Richmond (CL-9), USS Arizona (BB-39), and USS New York (BB-34).
Sample served on board the carriers USS Saratoga (CV-3) and USS Lexington (CV-2), commanding Fighter Squadron VF-5 on the latter from 1932 to 1934. Promoted to Lieutenant Commander, Sample saw duty at the Bureau of Aeronautics from 1935 to 1937 followed by duty as Navigator in the aircraft carrier USS Ranger (CV-4) in 1938. In 1939 Sample was assigned as Air Operations Officer in USS Yorktown (CV-5). His last duty before World War II was as Supervisor of Aviation Training at Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida.
At the outbreak of World War II, he assisted in the conversion of the oil tanker Santee into an escort carrier, later designated USS Santee (CVE-29). Shortly thereafter he was promoted to Commander. Assuming command of that escort carrier on its commissioning, he was awarded a letter of commendation for service during Operation Torch; the invasion of North Africa.
Captain Sample assumed command of the large aircraft carrier USS Intrepid (CV-11) on 19 April 19 1944. In May 1944 he was transferred to serve as Commanding Officer of USS Hornet (CV-12) and in the ensuing months participated in the Battle of the Philippine Sea and a strike against the Volcano Islands.
In late summer 1944 he was promoted to Rear Admiral. Sample's flag was in USS Marcus Island (CVE-77) as Commander Carrier Division 27 for the invasion of Palau. In October 1944 at the Battle of Leyte Gulf his Carrier Division 27 was part of Task Unit 77.4.2 (Taffy II) at the Battle off Samar under Rear Admiral Felix B. Stump. In early 1945 Commander Carrier Division 27 and USS Marcus Island (CVE-77) supported the Invasion of Lingayen Gulf, Philippines. For the Invasion of Okinawa Sample moved his flag to Carrier Division 22 and USS Suwannee (CVE-27).
Shortly after the war ended Sample was tragically listed as missing on 2 October 1945 after his plane failed to return from a familiarization flight near Wakayama, Wakayama, Japan. Rear Admiral Sample was officially declared dead on 3 October 1946.
William Dodge Sample was the youngest rear admiral in the Pacific Ocean theater of World War II.
USS Sample (FF-1048) was commissioned on 23 March 1968.