KOIVISTO, Martin Matthew
Lieutenant Matthew Martin Koivisto, also known as Mart was born in 1909 in Michigan, the eldest son of six children to Finnish immigrants Hermann and Hilja Koivisto. He spent a year at the University of Michigan, before enrolling in the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. His classmates remember him for his 'sparkling wit, perpetual good humor, thoughtfulness, and willingness to help out a friend any time. And as a room- mate, there are no better.'
When Lieutenant Commander Keith was wounded in Cavite Bay, Koivisto took over command of the Peary on 10 December, although he had himself sustained several light shrapnel wounds.
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 a report on the Peary’s engagement with the enemy in December 1941, Captain Bermingham recorded that 'Lieutenant M. M. Koivisto on 26 December 1941 manoeuvred the PEARY in Manilla Bay efficiently and courageously during sustained attack by five flights of enemy high level bombers which dropped 5 “sticks” totalling approximately 45 bombs'.
Koivisto was thirty-two years old and married to Myrtle Edna Maring when he died in Darwin Harbour; they one child together, Robert Martin Koivisto, born 18 March 1939. Myrtle continued to live in San Diego after his death and never re-married.
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