Herstam, Gordon A.

Gordon Alan Herstam
Born: May 7, 1923
Hometown: Cleveland Heights, OH
Class: 1943
Service: U.S. Naval Reserve
Position / Rank: Ensign
Date / Place of death: April 2, 1945, USS
Goodhue (APA 107) off
Okinawa
Date / Place of burial April 3, 1945 / Army & Navy
Cemetery, Zamami Shima, Kerama Retto
March 25, 1949 / Arlington National Cemetery
Plot 34, Grave 4369
Age: 22

 

Gordon A. Herstam reported to the U.S. Merchant Marine Cadet Basic School at New
Orleans, LA on May 6, 1942. According to Crew Lists on file in New Orleans, LA
Cadet-Midshipman Gordon A. Herstam signed on aboard the United Fruit Company’s
SS Atlantida as Deck Cadet in early July 1942. Upon reporting to Kings Point he was
assigned to Section A221 for his final training. Crew lists on file in New York, NY show
that he signed on aboard the tanker SS Little Big Horn in January 1944, after his
graduation from the Academy, apparently while waiting for his Navy commission to be
activated.

Ensign Gordon A. Herstam, USNR was a “Plank Owner” aboard the Amphibious Troop
Transport USS Goodhue (APA 107) when it was commissioned on November 11, 1944.
According to the ship’s Log Book, Ensign Herstam was assigned to duty as one of the
ship’s Assistant Beachmasters After shakedown training off of the U.S. West Coast,
the new troop transport sailed on January 4, 1945 from San Diego, CA bound for the
South Pacific. From January through late March 1945 the USS Goodhue carried cargo
and troops in the South Pacific before loading troops and equipment for the assault on
Okinawa.

The USS Goodhue (APA 107) sailed from Leyte Gulf on March 21,1945 in a convoy
bound for Kerama Retto, a group of islands designated as the fleet base for the ships
assaulting Okinawa. On March 26 the Goodhue’s troops, along with troops from other
ships in the formation secured the islands of Kerama Retto and began building the
base. For about a week the Goodhue remained at Kerama Retto unloading cargo
during the day and withdrawing offshore overnight with the other transports. Even in
the night retirement area things were not peaceful. On Monday April 2, 1945 the
Goodhue’s Deck Log records the crew going to General Quarters three times between
midnight and 0742 when the ship anchored again off Kerama Retto. That afternoon,
while getting underway to execute the night retirement plan to maneuver the troop transports came under a prolonged air attack by Japanese kamikazes. The Goodhue’s gunners started firing at 1837. Within minutes the transports USS Henrico (APA ) and USS Telfair (APA had been hit or grazed by kamikazes.

The crew of the Goodhue fought back, desperately firing at the approaching planes,
and bringing one of them down on her starboard side. Meanwhile a second kamikaze
was stalking the Goodhue from about 3,000 yards to starboard. As the plane turned
toward the Goodhue the ship’s forward 5″ gun fired one shot, damaging the plane,
before suffering a breakdown. The ship’s 20mm gunners continued firing on the
aircraft, finally managing to set the plane on fire but the hitting power of the 20mm
shells was not enough to destroy the kamikaze before it crashed into the Goodhue’s
mainmast at the crosstrees. Part of the plane continued aft, exploding over the fantail,
while another part of the plane, with at least one bomb, swung over the port side and
exploded at deck level. The explosions immediately killed seventeen of the ship‘s crew,
including Ensign Gordon A. Herstam, who was at his station and suffered shrapnel
wounds to his abdomen. Five more Army soldiers were killed and many others
subsequently died of their wounds in the following hours and days.

The Goodhue did not suffer structural damage, and was able to continue on to Kerama
Retto for repairs and further service. The dead were buried at the Army & Navy
Cemetery at Zamami Shima, on Kerama Retto the following day with full military
honors. After World War II the men buried in temporary cemeteries like those interred
at Zamami Shima were either re-interred at permanent military cemeteries or returned
to the United States. Ensign Gordon A. Herstam’s body was re-interred at Arlington
National Cemetery on March 25, 1949. His grave is near that of another Kings Pointer,
astronaut Elliot M. See, Class of 1949.

Ensign Gordon A. Herstam, USNR was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and
the Asiatic – Pacific Campaign Medal. For this service as Cadet Midshipman he would
have been awarded the Atlantic War Zone Bar.

Gordon A. Herstam was the oldest of Nathan Herstam and Lilian Gordon Herstam’s two
children and their only son. According to the 1930 Census Nathan Herstam was a
lawyer with a private practice living in Cleveland Heights, OH. Gordon’s sister, Ruth,
was four years younger. Crew lists describe him as being 5’7″ tall and weighing167
pounds.

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