Northern Territory Government

Roll of Honour

KJOLHEDE, Gerhardt Marvin

Peary and Houston

USS Peary and USS Houston before the first Japanese air raid.

Gerhardt Marvin Kjolhede, Boilermaker 1st Class (320-88-32), was born on 19 August 1915 in Newell Township, Buena Vista County, Iowa, the son of Carl Kjolhede of Denmark and Eva Eleisth Sondergaard Dwight of Illinois. He enlisted on 15 September 1933 in Des Moines, Iowa and served on the Houston from 31 March 1939 with the Asiatic Fleet. He served on the Rowan from 23 September 1939 and then transferred to the Quincy on 29 February 1940.

Kjolhede joined the Peary in November 1940 and was with her in Cavite Bay when she was bombed. He was twenty-six when he died in Darwin Harbour.

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.

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