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BRIDGEPORT, Pa. — On Memorial Day, the Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) remembers former United States Naval Academy water polo athlete Lt. Arthur Leonard Gustafson ’36.

Known as “Gus”, he was June 13, 1913 in Watertown, Codington, South Dakota, he grew up in Watertown and graduated from Watertown High School in June 1931. He attended the University of South Dakota for his freshman year (1931-1932).

In January 1932, South Dakota Senator Peter Norbeck, arranged with the Civil Service Commission to hold a competitive examination on February 9, 1932 at various designated places in South Dakota. Watertown was one of those locations. The examination would determine men eligible for nomination by the Senator to fill two vacancies at the Naval Academy for 1932 and one vacancy at West Point. The two candidates for the Naval Academy ranking highest in the competitive exam would be nominated as principals and alternates. Those selected by the Senator would have to pass the entrance exams and physicals of the respective academies.

Gustafson sat for the examination and was notified on February 22 that he had attained the highest score. He was named principal appointee to the US Naval Academy by Senator Norbeck. The first alternate was John F. Wood of Rapid City. Both men passed the Naval Academy entrance exams and their physical exams (according to a Rapid City Journal article of June 3, 1932). A search of the Naval Academy Registers for 1932 did not find a John F. Wood in the entering class of 1932. His alternate, Millard J. Smith, took his place and graduated “With Distinction” standing 25th in the class of 262 Midshipmen in 1936.

Gustafson was admitted to the Naval Academy on June 16, 1932. Gustafson was well liked and amiable. He was an above average student, athlete and leader. As a member of the Water Polo team for the four years at Annapolis, Gustafson lead his Navy team as captain to the 1936 Intercollegiate Water Polo championship.

His classmates had this to say about him in the Naval Academy Lucky Bag yearbook of 1936;

Part man, part fish, part Swede—but mostly just plain good fellow—that’s Gus. If you don’t believe the man and fish parts, just tie into him in the pool some day. The Swede part—well, where else could a name like that come from? And everyone knows he’s a grand fellow—except when he’s trying to borrow stamps or cigarettes. Gus’s silky blond hair was the bane of his existence; he never could keep the stuff where it belonged. Furthermore, some femme or other was always wanting to play with it. However, his affairs of the heart have never bothered him much. He tried falling in love several times—even going so far as to write poetry about it—but it never did much good; his affection for the Navy was always too great.

Gustafson received his diploma at commencement exercises on June 4, 1936 where he also took the oath of office and accepted a commission as an Ensign of the Line, US Navy. There were 244 midshipmen commissioned; 219 Ensigns of the Line and 25 Second Lieutenants, USMC. Ensign Gustafson finished 44th in merit standing in a class of 262 graduates (some Midshipmen graduated but were not commissioned).

Each new Ensign of the Line was expected to go to sea on their first tour of duty. On June 28, 1932, Ensign Gustafson reported for duty on board the battleship, USS Idaho (BB-42). After almost two years serving on board Idaho, Ensign Gustafson received orders on May 19 to detach from Idaho about May 23, 1938 and report to the Commander, Battle Force for Communications duty on board the staff flagship, battleship, USS California (BB-44).

On March 30, 1939, orders were issued to detach when directed and report to Asiatic Station for assignment. On June 4, 1939, Ensign Gustafson was promoted to Lieutenant (Junior Grade). It is presumed that Ltjg Gustafson detached from Commander, Battle Force in June 1939. On July 18, 1939, Ltjg Gustafson married Eva Gladys Marguerite Smyth in Silver Spring, Md.

The couple probably departed on their honeymoon motoring across the country to Los Angeles where they boarded the Liner, S.S. President Harrison, on July 31 with other navy families bound for Asiatic Fleet duty. According to the Honolulu Advertiser of August 8 1939, Ltjg Gustafson and his wife were among 17 US Navy officers and 16 of their family members on board destined for Asiatic Station in Manila. On August 19, 1939, Naval orders were issued to Ltjg Gustafson to report for duty to the destroyer, USS Peary (DD-226).

Gustafson reported for duty on board Peary on September 3, 1939 and assumed duties as the First Lieutenant.

The threat of hostilities between the United States and Japan grew closer to the boiling point as the year 1941 began. Admiral Hart, Commander in Chief, Asiatic Fleet, determined then it was time to send all of the families of his sailors home and not allow any families into the Philippines. Admiral Hart’s directive probably saved many family members from internment by the Japanese or worse. For many of the sailors, it was the last time they would ever see their families.

Then, in July 1941, as Japanese aggression intensified with their move south into lower Indo-China, Admiral Hart warned his officers that he had no doubt that war would come although he didn’t know how of when it would start. Hart trained his destroyer crews hard keeping them on a war-footing for extended periods and away from Cavite naval base as much as possible exercising his “defensive deployment.” Ordered to comply with the Adm. Hart’s “defensive deployment” well south of Manila, units of the Asiatic Fleet including destroyer tender USS Blackhawk (AD-9), and other ships of Destroyer Squadron Twenty-Nine (DesRon 29), got underway on November 25, 1941, and arrived on the morning of November 29, 1941, in Balikpapan, a major oil port on the eastern coast of Borneo.

Peary was not among the group of ships proceeding south. Despite his best efforts, Admiral Hart was still caught by surprise by the Japanese attacks. Four of the Destroyer Division Fifty Nine (DesDiv 59) ships remained in the Manila Bay area during the first week of December 1941 for overhaul and two others to provide escort services for shipping. Two of the destroyers, Pillsbury and Peary, were in the navy yard at Cavite for repairs following a collision during night training exercises in late October.

Peary was still pier-side at Cavite’s Central wharf on the morning of December 10, 1941, in a “cold iron” state. Her engines disassembled, bow open awaiting a patch, she was receiving “hotel” services (water, electricity and steam) from the pier (some reports indicate Peary was at the shipyard for routine maintenance). Most of her crew had moved ashore to continue repairs from base maintenance shops. She was non-operational. Suddenly, about 1:00 p.m., two flights of more than 50 Japanese twin-engine, land-based, medium bombers appeared over the naval installations and commenced to obliterate everything in sight.

Peary sustained a direct hit with an estimated 250 pound bomb which contained a combination of shrapnel and incendiary explosives. The bomb struck her mast spraying shrapnel in every direction killing or wounding almost everyone on the fire-control platform, bridge, and other areas and starting fires. Eight sailors were killed outright and five officers, including the then Commanding Officer, Lcdr Keith, were wounded. They were evacuated to Sternberg hospital. The executive officer was found unconscious on the bridge and later died. Another 15 enlisted men on the ship were wounded. Also, many crewmen were lost in the bombing while ashore. With the wounding of Peary’s CO and death of her XO, the ship’s temporary captaincy was assumed by Lt Martin M. Koivisto, who had sustained several shrapnel wounds himself during the attack.

Unable to get underway and with little help on board or from ashore, Peary’s fate seemed sealed. Suddenly, the small Asiatic Fleet minesweeper, USS Whippoorwill (AM-35) braved the flames, smoke and exploding warheads from a torpedo shop on the pier to render assistance to the severely damaged Peary. After much effort, Whippoorwill was able to tow Peary to a buoy some distance away. She and Pillsbury moored alongside Peary and within a brief period began sending over damage control parties, water and food to the beleaguered Peary (Whippoorwill’s commanding officer received the Navy Cross for his actions that day.).

In accordance with CINC, Asiatic Fleet orders dated December 11, 1941, Lt John Bermingham assumed command of USS Peary as noted in Peary’s deck log entry.

After the December 10 attack, the remaining crew set to work making Peary ready for sea. It was a Herculean effort performed by the crew in conjunction with the facilities of Atlantic Gulf and Pacific Company to effect the minimum repairs in order to make Peary sea-worthy.

On December 23-24 1941, Peary, her repairs done, got underway on her first war mission; an antisubmarine patrol assignment in the Verde Island Passage between Luzon and the Philippine island of Mindoro. The day after Christmas 1941, the CO’s of USS Pillsbury and Peary were ashore at a conference with the Commandant, Sixteenth Naval District, Admiral Rockwell, to discuss releasing the ships to join other US forces in the Netherlands East Indies. Suddenly, enemy bombers appeared overhead. Peary was attacked by five flights of Japanese high level bombers. Each flight consisted of between six to nine planes.

Lt Bermingham watched from shore as his new executive officer, Lt Martin M. Koivisto, deftly maneuvered Peary around Manila Bay dodging bomb after bomb for several hours. Though she suffered a few near misses, Peary emerged virtually unscathed. Later that evening, Peary and Pillsbury were ordered to put to sea and proceed south by the best route and join Task Force 5 at Soerabaja. For safety, each ship was to proceed independently.

Just prior to Peary’s departure, she received a group of “passengers” with no written orders consisting of two officers and seven enlisted radiomen and yeomen assigned to the staff of CINC, US Asiatic Fleet. They were, in fact, members of Admiral Hart’s “Purple Gang” who manned the secret underground radio intelligence unit at Monkey Point on Corregidor.

Peary’s voyage south was eventful and dangerous as the Japanese held mastery of the air and sea. Lt Bermingham traveled only by night and during the day he brought his ship close to shore and tied up to trees and covered the ship with palm fronds and green paint in order to blend with the flora of the various islands. Several times, Japanese bombers flew overhead but did not detect the ship. At about 8:00 am. on December 28, Peary sighted a large Japanese four-engine seaplane shadowing her. The plane was joined by three more which dropped 500 pound bombs, which the Peary maneuvered successfully to avoid.

Finally, after the flying boats completed their attacks, two twin engine, single wing torpedo planes appeared and commenced an attack on Peary dropping two torpedoes off the port bow and two off the port quarter. Again, the skipper maneuvered the ship out of danger; just barely. However, after dropping their ordnance, the enemy torpedo planes fired several strafing bursts which struck the stacks. They were driven off by heavy shipboard machine gun fire.

About 1800, off Kema Island in the Bangka Strait, three Lockheed Hudson patrol bombers were sighted approaching from astern. The aircraft challenged Peary via signal light and she responded. The pilot was seen to wave his arm. However, one of the planes assumed a glide bombing profile. Ltjg Gustafson’s anti-aircraft batteries opened fire and the ship began maneuvering radically. One of Peary’s gun crew lost his balance and fell overboard (he was picked up by a fisherman, but was turned over to the Japanese. He worked in a mine in Japan and was repatriated at the end of the war.). Each Hudson made two attacks dropping a single 250 pound shrapnel bomb. There were no direct hits but near misses caused extensive but relatively minor damage from shrapnel. One crewman, Seaman First Class (S1c) Kenneth Eugene Quinaux was firing on the attacker with his machine gun when he was struck by shrapnel and died instantly at his battle station. Prior to departing, each Hudson made a strafing run on the ship. Peary was hit in various places topside but the bullets caused no serious damage. The following day, December 29, 1941 at 8:00 p.m., Quinaux’s remains were committed to the sea during services.

Peary anchored at Port Darwin on January 3, 1942 after a 2,100 mile plus transit from Manila, Philippines to Darwin, Australia. Within a week of arriving at Darwin, twenty-eight enlisted men and officers became ill with a virulent form of Malaria or Dengue Fever, contracted when the ship anchored off remote Maitara Island near Ternate in the Halmakeras. It was necessary to stop to make repairs after being attacked by Australian aircraft. Eventually nine men would die.

On January 6, 1942, Ltjg Gustafson was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant (Lt). He also had new responsibilities; Gunnery Officer, Engineering, Assistant Damage Control Officer, and Special Services (recreation). According to Peary deck logs that were signed by Gustafson in February 1942, his title was Lieutenant meaning he had signed the necessary paperwork and taken the oath of office for his promotion to become effective. And, the paperwork had been forwarded to Washington. His contemporaries listed in the Officer’s Register for July 1942 indicate their promotion (and his) with a date of rank, January 1, 1942, was permanent and not a temporary rank.

After arriving in Darwin, Peary received tender availability services from USS Black Hawk (AD-9) to affect temporary repairs and make Peary seaworthy. Those repairs were completed on January 22, 1942. Peary assumed submarine escort duties on numerous occasions. She was an anti-submarine escort for USS Langley (AV-3) from Darwin to Fremantle, Australia between February 8-13, 1942, and she steamed with USS Houston escorting a Darwin-Koepang convoy from February 14-19, 1942.

Peary returned to Port Darwin on February 19, 1942, but was attacked within hours by many carrier-based single engine Japanese dive-bombers. She was hit by five bombs. The fifth bomb, an incendiary, exploded in the after engine room opening the ship to the sea. Peary sank, stern first, at about 1300 (some recently discoveries indicate Peary sank much sooner.) with her anti-aircraft guns still blazing away until she sank. According to records, there were only five officers on board Peary during this attack. Only one, the engineering officer, survived.

Lt Arthur L. Gustafson was listed as missing in action on February 19, 1942 and presumed dead. His remains were unrecoverable. He was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart, American Defense Service Medal w/Fleet Clasp (bronze star in lieu of clasp), Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal w/Fleet Clasp and two bronze stars (one bronze star in lieu of clasp), China Service Medal, Philippine Defense Medal and the WWII Victory Medal.

Lt Gustafson’s family also received a personal commemoration from President Franklin D. Roosevelt that stated”

“In grateful memory of Arthur Leonard Gustafson, who died in the service of his country, SEA, Asiatic Area, ATTACHED U.S.S. PEARY, 19 February 1942. He stands in the unbroken line of patriots who have dared to die that freedom might live and grow and increase its blessings. Freedom lives, and through it, he lives — in a way that humbles the undertakings of most men. Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States”.

For his service, the USS Gustafson (DE-182) was named in his honor. She was launched October 3, 1943 by the Federal Shipbuilding & Drydock Co., Newark, N.J.; sponsored by Mrs. Eva Smythe Stevens, widow of Lt. Gustafson; and commissioned November 1, 1943. Gustafson’s primary responsibilities included Atlantic convoy escort and anti-submarine warfare. She sailed primarily in the North and South Atlantic shipping lanes. She was given credit for sinking U-857 off Cape Cod on April 7, 1945. She was on her way to the Pacific Theatre when hostilities ended on August 15, 1945. Gustafson steamed to Green Cove Springs, Fla. for inactivation. She was decommissioned there June 26, 1946. Gustafson remained in reserve until October 23, 1950 when she was transferred to the Netherlands under terms of the Military Defense Program. She served the Netherlands Navy as Van Ewijk (F-808) until being returned to the United States on December 15, 1967, and sold in February 1968 to be scrapped.

Collegiate Water Polo Association