James A. Busey

Service Number: 520257
Rank: Fireman 1st Class
Assignment: USS Leopold (DE-319)

James Arthur Busey was born on October 21, 1921 in Seabrook, Maryland to parents Samuel Arthur “Bubba” Busey and Zelah Catherine (Lauer) “Celie” Busey. James had a younger sister, Elizabeth who was born in the fall of 1925. According to a 1925 directory, the Buseys were living at 1144 Fifth Street NE in Washington D.C. and the 1930 Census, shows them living at 513 G. Street Northeast in Washington D.C. James was a parishioner of the Saint Francis Xavier Church and attended Holy Name parochial grade school from September, 1928 to June, 1936. The principal there stated he was an average to poor student.  This assessment could have certainly been a reflection of life at home. It was during this period that James’s parents had separated. Samuel was a machinist by trade and worked at the Washington D.C. Navy Yard. By 1935, Samuel was living at 1930 18th Street Northwest. James attended Eastern High School in Washington D.C. from September 20, 1936 until June 17, 1939; the end of his sophomore year. It was noted by the assistant principal that his scholarship, attendance and punctuality records all were poor. 

1669 Fort Davis Place, SE
Zelah, James and Elizabeth resided at 1010 11th St. Northeast in Washington D.C. by 1940. James was employed as a clerk for the Safeway grocery store at 4th and F Street Northeast from 1939 into 1940. He then picked up work as laborer for William P. Lipscomb Construction Company for a year. On December 1, 1941, James took a job as a truck driver and sheet metal helper for John A. Pierpoint, a tinning, roofing, heating and ventilation contractor. He left this job on May 8, 1942 with the intention of joining the armed forces. Three days later, James enlisted in the United States Coast Guard Reserves at the recruitment office in Baltimore, Maryland but was required to obtain parental consent to join. Zelah signed the paperwork and James was officially sworn into the Coast Guard as an Apprentice Seaman on May 13th for a 3-year period. At the time of enlistment, he was residing at 1669 Fort Davis Place, Southeast in Washington D.C. with his mother and sister. On his enlistment paperwork, Busey was 20 years, 6 months of age, stood at five foot, seven inches height and weighted in at 131 pounds. He had blue eyes, brown hair, a medium complexion. There was a one inch scar on his forehead and another on his right wrist. When asked if he was ever arrested, James answered “yes” during an instance of speeding, yet according to police records there was no record of this. In fact, his rap sheet was squeaky clean.
Training at Manhattan Beach
Busey departed his home the next day and reported to Manhattan Beach Training Station in Brooklyn, New York.  Here, he would spend just slightly over a month waking up at 5:30am to learn the basic skills needed to become a "Coastie.” Here is a description of what training was like there. "They learned how to march and salute, how to dress for inspection and keep their personal space ship-shape. They launch, row, and retrieve pulling boats from the beach. They go to the firing range to practice with small arms and heavy weapons like the 20mm and 40mm twin or quad mounts, the three-inch 50-caliber, and the five-inch 38-caliber open mount. They spend days firing at an aerial target towed up and down a beach. They learn how to close watertight doors, pump water from one ship’s compartment to another, how to shore up a damaged hull, how to survive a burning ship with oxygen masks, and how to abandon ship without a lifeboat. They strap into life jackets, hold their noses, grab their family jewels, and jump twenty feet into a tank of water with a fire flaring on top. They swim out of the flames, splashing water to keep their hair and eyebrows from catching fire. They practice cold-water survival. Aboard the ‘USS Neversail’ (a land-locked training ship) they tie knots, make rope fenders, splice rope and wire. They master the names of all the lines and make the USS Neversail ready to go to sea. They practice landing a ship at a dock and tying it up. They set the bow anchors, rig a sea anchor, and fix a scramble net over the side to pick up men in the water. And when their day is done, they gather in the mess halls to feast on a stew known as ‘frickin’ chick-a-sea.’ Finally, they survive sleepless, booze-soaked liberties in Manhattan.” Famed boxer Jack Dempsey was assigned as Director of Physical Education at this station on June 12. James would have been nearly finished, but it’s possible that Dempsey could have had some involvement with his basic training.  
Duluth Coast Guard Station
On June 18th, Busey’s first orders after basic training sent him to the Hancock Life Saving Station located in Hancock, Michigan. Two days later he was transferred to the Duluth Coast Guard Station, located on bank of Lake Superior in Duluth, Minnesota. Here, James received a promotion to Seaman Second Class on August 13th and then to Seaman First Class on November 1st. One month later he reported to Coast Guard Station Detroit in Michigan. This facility was located on Belle Isle, a small island on the Detroit River close to the border of Canada. Their duty was to patrol the river from the western end of Lake Erie to Lake St. Clair, enforcing maritime law and to perform search and rescue operations for distressed swimmers and boaters. His assignment here was meant to be a brief one, but S1c Busey remained stationed there until late May, 1943. 
Belle Island C.G. Station
By May 28th, James was transferred to serve aboard the USCG Chaparral (WAGL 178) on Lake Superior in Wisconsin. The Chaparral was a 161 foot, 405 ton commercial ferry boat originally acquired by the Coast Guard in October 1942 for use on the Great Lakes because of it’s ice-breaking capabilities. This ship was soon repurposed as a buoy tender and recommissioned by the beginning of December. Buoy tenders were used to maintain and replace navigation aids on the water ways. While working aboard the Chaparral, he was promoted to Fireman Second Class on June 14th, 1943. The duties of a fireman were to maintain the ship’s engines, boilers and pumps.
USS Chaparral (WAGL-178)
James received orders on September 6, 1943 to report to the Naval Training Station in Norfolk, Virginia for Destroyer Escort training. He departed from Wisconsin at noon on September 11th and headed back home to Washington D.C. to see his family and friends. He was granted a 10 day leave of absence before heading on to Virginia. 

On September 22, James arrived in Norfolk, where he was assigned to Destroyer Escort (DE) Crew #12 and participated in orientation training for the destroyer escort program. Destroyer escorts were ships created to protect slower moving convoys, mainly freighters and tankers, against enemy ships, aircraft and submarines. They were smaller and slower than their brethren, the destroyer, which protected the battleships and aircraft carriers. The escorts were a good fit for their purpose, primarily because they could be produced quicker and cheaper than destroyers. 
Robert L. Leopold
In mid October, Crew #12 boarded a passenger train bound for Texas to attend the commissioning ceremony of their new ship, the USS Leopold (DE-319) which was held on October 18, 1943. The Leopold was an Edsall-Class Destroyer, named after Robert Lawrence Leopold. Leopold was a Navy Ensign who was killed aboard the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The ship was built and launched at the Consolidated Steel Corporation in Orange, Texas on June 12, 1943 and sponsored by Ms. Helen S. Leopold, the sister of it’s namesake. This destroyer escort was 306 feet in length, 36 feet-seven inches wide and had a displacement of 1,253 tons. At 12 knots, her range was 10,800 nautical miles. Leopold had an impressive array of weaponry with cannons, torpedo tubes and depth charges. It was also fitted with a state-of-the-art radar, sonar capable of detecting U-boats from up to a distance of 4000 yards, and a high-frequency direction finding (HF/DF or “huff duff”) equipment that was used to locate enemy submarines by listening to their radio transmissions. DE-319 held a crew of 199, which were under the command of Lieutenant Commander Kenneth C. Phillips.   
Launching of USS Leopold
While moored at port, Leopold was loaded up with fuel, supplies and some ammunition and set off down the Sabine River on October 21st for some initial maneuvering trials and structural test firing of the guns. The next day, the ship arrived in Galveston, Texas and put into a dry dock for 6 days to repair a chronic steering engine problem encountered while on the maiden voyage. Once re-floated, the Leopold got underway for New Orleans, Louisiana, arriving on October 30. Here, the hull was degaussed (reduction of magnetic signature), they performed additional navigational tests, and re-stocked the ammunition. 
By November 7th, USS Leopold departed the Mississippi River delta and sailed on to Bermuda along with sister ship, USS Kirkpatrick (DE-318) to perform a shakedown cruise with the young and inexperienced crew. This process allowed all equipment, weapons and procedures to be thoroughly tested, making sure everything and everyone was in satisfactory condition before being pressed into duty. They completed these sea trials on December 9th and headed to the Navy yard in Charleston, South Carolina to make any necessary repairs, re-calibrate equipment, and refuel the ship. By December 21st, they returned to Norfolk where they resumed training and re-stocked the ship with provisions and additional ammunition.  
The USS Leopold departed from the Chesapeake Bay for it’s first mission on Christmas Eve 1943 as part of Task Force 61 (TF-61). They were to escort a convoy (UGS-28) of over 100 ships to Egypt and Morocco. The job of the destroyer escorts was to protect the convoy by flanking the ships, staying alert at all times watching and listening or “screening” for signs of U-boats. These German submarines had been decimating allied vessels crossing the Atlantic Ocean. The escorts would also round up any “stragglers” that lagged behind the rest of the convoy. During this mission, Leopold was directed on the evening of December 30th to go to the rear of the formation to search for a seaman from Ship #34 of the convoy reported lost overboard. After searching the area for 45 minutes without success, they returned to their screening position. 
On New Years Day 1944, James was promoted to Fireman First Class (F1c). The only other news for that day was a refueling from the tanker USS Chepachet (AO-78) and a lieutenant who missed the Leopold when it departed Norfolk. He managed to catch a ride aboard the Chepachet and reunited with his crew during the refueling process.
Casablanca Convoy
Task Force 61 arrived at the Straits of Gibraltar on the morning of January 10th where the British Royal Navy took over escort duties for the convoy. The Leopold headed for Casablanca for a few days of liberty, but only half of the crew was allowed to go ashore at a time. This limitation was due to alleged reports of Italian frogmen who were attempting to plant explosives on allied warships. On January 13th, the task force resumed duty by screening the waters surrounding the Straits of Gibraltar to prevent enemy submarines from entering the Mediterranean. After two days of anti-submarine screening, Leopold returned to Gibraltar Harbor where a third of the crew were now granted liberty. New orders were received for an escort detail heading back to the United States. The ship was refueled and received 10 tons of fresh water prior to departing Gibraltar by the afternoon of January 16th.  
They were now heading west-bound as one of 16 destroyer escorts to protect a convoy of 108 merchant ships (GUS-27). The return voyage was plagued with problems. This was  mostly due to miserable weather, particularly the strong headwinds and cold, rough seas. The escorts were constantly leaving their positions to look for convoy stragglers who were blown out of position and couldn’t keep up. The waves reached 40 to 65 foot tall and battered the Leopold relentlessly. Someone in the crew nicknamed the ship “Leapin’ Leo.” During this time, the morale was said to be poor. Nelson “Sparky” Nersasian, a gunner aboard the Leopold wrote in journal, “All hands in bad mood. Fights springing up from all quarters. . . . Chow lousy. Weather cold.”

USS Poole (DE-151)
The convoy finally arrived at New York on the late evening of February 4th and the Leopold was anchored at the New York Navy Yard. The next morning it was placed in dry dock to have voyage repairs and alterations completed.  James was granted a furlough while the ship was being fixed. He made his way back to Washington D.C. for a few days before returning to New York. On the 15th, Leopold was re-floated, resupplied and by evening, was underway to New London, Connecticut for anti-submarine warfare and P.T. Boat exercises along with USS Poole (DE-151) and USS Kirkpatrick (DE-318). After a few days training off the coast Montauk, New York with US Navy sub, USS Bonita (SS-165), the destroyer escorts moved up to Casco Bay, Maine for weapons practice. Leopold, Poole, Kirkpatrick returned to New York Navy Yard on February 27th to await their next assignment.  
USS Peterson (DE-152)
On the morning of March 1st, USS Leopold received Operation Order #1-44, an escort detail that included USS Poole, USS Kirkpatrick, USS Joyce (DE-317), USS Harveson (DE-316), and USS Peterson (DE-152). The ships were part of Escort Division 22, Task Group 21.5, protecting a small convoy of 27 ships (CU-16) across the Atlantic Ocean to Londonderry, North Ireland. The first paragraph of the orders warned, “Enemy submarines are very active in areas through which [the] convoy will travel. And attacks can be expected at any time. . . . The utmost vigilance must be exercised.” The group readied and departed from New York harbor at 1pm. The voyage was a pretty uneventful one for a week. But the convoy then entered an area nicknamed, "Torpedo Junction." This was where the dreaded U-boats were known to sit and wait to ambush passing ships. On the 8th, USS Leopold reported an HF/DF (Huff Duff) intercept 100 miles away from their position. This indicated that an enemy submarine was along the path of the convoy. The commander ordered a course alteration to steer clear of the vicinity.
USS Kirkpatrick (DE-318)
On March 9, 1944, USS Leopold was ordered to switch positions in the formation with USS Kirkpatrick as the Leopold was the only escort vessel equipped with a HF/DF device to listen for submarine radio transmissions. Kirkpatrick was on far starboard (right-hand) side of the escorts; the side in which the U-boat was detected the day prior. Everyone was on edge, fearing a possible sub attack.  General quarters was called several times throughout the day to keep the crew prepared for action. In the afternoon, an order was given to personnel of the Leopold not engaged in critical operations of the ship to assemble on the fantail to watch a film that reviewed abandon-ship procedures. That evening, the convoy was located approximately 400 miles due south of Iceland. The sea had a moderate westerly swell. There were some patchy, heavy clouds in an otherwise partly overcast sky. The air temperature was a cold and damp 44 degrees Fahrenheit with moderate winds and the water temperature was reported to be a roughly the same as the surface air.  
USS Harveson (DE-316)
Leopold picked up a target on the surface radar at 7:50pm closing within 4 miles of their position. They reported the contact to the commander of the convoy escort and left station to go intercept this contact at flanking speed. Personnel were immediately ordered to general quarters.  Seven minutes later, USS Joyce was dispatched to assist Leopold with the investigation. At 7:58pm, Leopold fired star flares to illuminate the area. Visual contact was immediately made with a U-boat moving right across the front of the ship. Leo’s guns opened up on the target but did not manage to score a hit. Sparky Nersasian recalled, “We look up and there is a sub in front of us . . . everybody’s yelling, ‘Get those bastards. Kill them! Kill them!’ The sub is going across us right to left on top of the water . . . someone says, ‘Torpedo,’ and there we are wide open. Absolutely no defense. Bang. Explosion."
USS Joyce (DE-317)
The submarine spotted by the Leopold was the U-255, helmed by Oberleutnant zur See (Lieutenant at sea) Erich Harms. This had been the contact detected by the Leopold the day prior thought to be stalking the convoy. The U-boat launched the newly developed T5 “Gnat” acoustic torpedo as it was diving to evade attack. It was designed to home in on sound waves created by a ship’s propeller. The projectile circled around and found the Leopold, striking the hull low in her port-side, taking out the engine room and electric to the ship. James Busey was most likely killed instantly as his station would have been in the area of the impact. They were stopped dead in the water and the Leopold starting to droop from midship. The bow and stern of the Leopold were lifted up out of the water. “The ship is in two pieces, just held together by the deck,” Sparky Nersasian said. “Everything was sliding toward the center of the ship. Cut in half just like you measured it. Down we went.”
The men scrambled to escape the sinking vessel as the order to abandon ship as given. Many were trapped in the wreckage, and those who were not, faced the only option of jumping into the frigid sea. Huge waves were breaking over the life rafts and knocking men back out into the ocean. USS Joyce responded to assist with rescue operations but had to evade reported incoming torpedoes thought to be from the U-255, but more recently discovered to actually be those from the Leopold. They were armed and once submerged during the sinking, automatically launching from their tube and skimmed through the water, just missing the Joyce. This delayed efforts to save the survivors who clung to whatever wreckage they could find. Most of those who jumped into the water froze to death. By morning of March 10th, the stern of the Leopold had already sunk, but a portion of the bow was still afloat. The Joyce was ordered to stay in the vicinity to pick up any survivors and to sink any wreckage of the Leopold as it would become a danger to later passing ships; particularly at night. The Joyce brought aboard the survivors, recovered 3 bodies, sunk the wreckage of the Leopold using gunfire and depth charges then set off to rejoin to the convoy. USS Joyce made it to Londonderry the next day and dropped the survivors off at a hospital. Out of 199 men aboard the USS Leopold, only 28 men survived this attack. There was not a single officer among them. Tragically, the body of Fireman First Class Busey was never recovered and believed perished at sea. The sinking of the USS Leopold represents the second largest loss of life aboard a US Coast Guard ship in its history, the single largest loss of life in the combat history of the US Coast Guard, and the first destroyer escort lost in World War II.
 7 of the USS Leopold Survivors
James’s mother, Zelah received a letter dated March 29, 1944 from U.S. Coast Guard Vice Admiral R.R. Waesche.  “My dear Mrs. Busey:  It is a source of profound regret to me that your son, James Arthur Busey, Fireman, first class, USCGR, lost his life in action against the enemies of his countermand I wish to express my deepest sympathy to you and members of your family in your great loss. There is little I can say to lessen your grief, but it is my earnest hope that the knowledge that your son gave his life in the performance of his duty may in some measure comfort you in your sad hour.” Zelah would later receive James’s Purple Heart (awarded September 27, 1944), his final pay and WWII campaign medals from the Coast Guard. James Arthur Busey was survived by his parents and sister.
134 Second Avenue
The only reference to Mount Ephraim, New Jersey about James’s life was that his father, Samuel was living at 134 Second Avenue at the time of his son’s death. Samuel was employed as a machinist for the Philadelphia Naval Ship Yard. An interesting detail about this situation is that the monument at the veterans triangle on Davis Avenue is inscribed with the name “Busey Samuel A.” instead of James. These mistakes were common as the memorial was purchased and dedicated several year after the war. James A. Busey's name is inscribed on the Tablets of the Missing at Cambridge American Cemetery, Cambridge England.

James Busey's name on Tablets of the Missing in Cambridge, England
If you wish to see a documentary made about the USS Joyce and the sinking of the USS Leopold, please visit:  https://vimeo.com/37318074. Also, a must-read book about the sinking of the Leopold is called “Never to Return” by Robert Nersasian and Randall Puffer. This offers a first hand account of life aboard the Leopold as told by a survivor and his family. The quoted passages in this story were taken from this book.  

Here is a final poignant statement from USS Leopold survivor, Nelson “Sparky” Nersasian:
“Now that I think about it, I wonder, what was it all about? What’s the sense? They killed two hundred [sic] of my friends. And my gun was responsible for maybe killing some mother’s son, some woman’s husband, sweetheart. Just human beings.”

May their sacrifice never forgotten.


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