BERMINGHAM, John Michael
John Michael Bermingham was born in the Bronx, New York, in 1905. He was the oldest of four children and his twin brother Donald died in infancy. A good student, he attended the prestigious Regis High School and was awarded a New York State Regents scholarship.
Bermingham began his college career at Manhattan College. In 1924 he received a congressional appointment to the US Naval Academy and began his education there. In 1929 he was commissioned as an Ensign upon graduation from the Academy. His naval career was varied and took him all over the USA and Asia, including a stint teaching at the Naval Academy. During the 1930s he served on many ships, including the Wyoming, Utah, and Augusta.
Lieutenant Commander John Bermingham’s tour of duty with the Asiatic Fleet finished in December 1941. He had left his post as Executive Officer of the USS Stewart, a sister ship of the Peary, and was awaiting transport back to his wife Grace and three daughters, in the United States. The Peary’s captain was severely wounded when the Japanese bombed Cavite Bay in the Philippines on 10 December; Bermingham took over his badly damaged ship, and got her back to sea in a remarkably short time. The crew were immediately impressed with Bermingham, and survivors remember him with fond admiration.
On a dramatic voyage to Australia, Bermingham ordered the ship camouflaged with green paint borrowed from the Army, and they took refuge during daylight by anchoring close to the islands and covering the ship with palm fronds. Many of his crew contracted malaria on this journey. They were attacked on 26 and 27 December, but avoided damage by violent manoeuvring.
In January the Peary was escorting troops from Darwin to Timor, when they were again attacked. They returned to Darwin, refuelled and set off again with the cruiser USS Houston. A submarine chase exhausted the Peary’s fuel, and she returned to Darwin in the early hours of the 19 February.
The Peary was hit early in the action, and appears to have sunk within 40 minutes. The fifth bomb to hit the Peary caused the fatal damage that sent her to the bottom and it was said to be the last bomb dropped that day on the harbour. The Peary’s machine guns continued to fire at the Japanese planes even as she sank. Eighty-eight officers and men, including Captain Bermingham, were killed; twenty of the fifty-seven survivors were wounded.
In December 1942 the Peary was awarded one battle star for service in World War II.
John Bermingham, known to his family as Jack, was a published author. In one of his last letters home, before the war began, he discussed his plans to write a history of les ruses de guerre. He was a scholar who was concerned that his daughters be well read. Along with his writing and naval career responsibilities, he loved photography and putting on Punch and Judy shows for his children and their friends. He is remembered by his family as a scholar, an author, a loving husband, caring big brother and devoted father, and a man with a delightful sense of humor.
Captain Bermingham was awarded the Navy Cross posthumously, 'for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession as Commanding Officer of the Destroyer U.S.S. PEARY (DD-226)'. The Destroyer John M. Bermingham (DE-530) was launched by his wife Grace on 17 November 1943 in his honour.
In March 1994, Bermingham Crescent in the Darwin suburb of Bayview was named in his memory.
Bermingham is survived by his three daughters, nine grandchildren, and sixteen great-grandchildren. His sister turned one hundred in late 2011. The top photograph was provided by his youngest daughter, Mrs Seton Grundy.
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