GUSTAFSON, Arthur Leonard
Arthur Leonard Gustafson, son of Martin Aldin and Alma Gustafson, was born on 13 June 1913 in Watertown, South Dakota. He grew up in Watertown and graduated from Watertown High School in 1931. Gustafson attended the University of South Dakota in Vermillion and enlisted in the United States Navy on 16 June 1932, before graduating from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland in 1936. He had been appointed Midshipman in June 1932, and was commissioned as Ensign in 1936. He served aboard the battleships Idaho and Colorado and was then commissioned Lieutenant in 1939 while aboard Colorado.
Arthur Gustafson married Eva Gladys Smythe on 18 July 1939 in Washington, the year in which he also transferred to the Peary in September, where he served as a Gunnery Officer. He was appointed Lieutenant for temporary service in January 1942. Lieutenant Gustafson earned the China Service Medal while serving on the Peary from 1939 to 1940.
The Peary had endured a dramatic voyage to Australia in December 1941, after sustaining damage in a bombing attack on the Cavite Navy Yard in the Philippines. The crew camouflaged the ship with green paint borrowed from the Army, and took refuge during daylight by anchoring close to the islands and covering the ship with palm fronds. Many of the Peary’s crew contracted malaria on this journey and eight men eventually died from the disease. They were attacked on 26 and 27 December, but avoided damage by violent manoeuvring. The Peary arrived in Darwin on 3 January.
In January the Peary was operating on anti-submarine patrol, convoy and escort missions; while escorting troops from Darwin to Timor, the ship was again attacked. They returned to Darwin, refuelled and set off again with the cruiser USS Houston. A fruitless submarine chase exhausted the Peary’s fuel, and she returned to Darwin in the early hours of 19 February.
The Peary was hit early in the bombing of Darwin, 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.
In his reports after the bombing in Cavite Bay, the Captain of the Peary, John Bermingham, had awarded Gustafson special credit for the efficient manner in which he and the engineering force had repaired and readied the Peary for operation, and noted that:
'Lieutenant (jg) A.L. Gustafson performed his duties as Gunnery Officer with conspicuous gallantry directing from an exposed position on the fire control platform the fire of both the A.A. battery and 4 inch battery in spite of shrapnel and staffing during the attacks of December 10, December 26 and December 28, 1941.'
Gustafson is listed as Missing in Action or Buried at Sea. His name is recorded on the Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery, Manila, Philippines. He was twenty-eight when he died in Darwin Harbour. His Academy ring was found by divers and returned to his widow after the war.
USS Gustafson (DE 182, 1943-1946) was the first ship named in his honour.
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