Clearing Puget Sound 4 January 1938, Jarvis operated along the California coast and in the Caribbean until 1 April 1940 when she departed San Diego for fleet exercises off the Hawaiian Islands. She arrived Pearl Harbor 26 April, cruised the Pacific to Midway and Johnston Islands and steamed to San Francisco 8 February 1941 for overhaul. Returning to Pearl Harbor 17 April to commence more than seven months of intensive maneuvers, she put into Pearl Harbor 4 December following exercises off Maui Island.
Three days later the Japanese executed the carefully planned, devastating attack on Pearl Harbor. As the first wave of enemy bombers raked Battleship Row with torpedoes and bombs, Ens. W. F. Greene laconically appraised the situation with the following entry in Jarvis’ Deck Log: “0758 Hostilities with Japan commenced with air raid on Pearl Harbor. Went to General Quarters.” Moored next to Mugford (DD-389) at the Navy Yard, Jarvis opened fire with 5-inch guns and machine guns and made preparations to get underway within minutes of the initial attack. Her 5-inch guns were among the first to challenge the enemy raiders, and her gunners proudly claimed four planes.
Emerging from the attack with no loss of crew and only superficial damage, Jarvis sortied that morning with several cruisers and destroyers to conduct surveillance and ASW patrols. On the 16th, she cleared Pearl Harbor with Saratoga (CV-3) and joined Task Force 14, steaming to relieve the beleaguered defenders on Wake Atoll. Recalled to Pearl Harbor 23 December, after the rescue mission aborted, Jarvis returned the 29th to resume ASW patrols. While operating with Lexington (CV-2) and her screening cruisers, Jarvis rescued 182 survivors of the stricken fleet oiler Neches (AO-5) 6 hours after she was torpedoed during mid-watch 23 January 1942.
Jarvis departed Pearl Harbor 5 February to escort a convoy to Brisbane, Australia. Following her return 27 March, she sailed 8 April for San Francisco to undergo alterations. She returned to Pearl 18 May escorting 13 ships and proceeded 5 days later via Fiji to Sidney Australia. Arriving 18 June, she commenced convoy escort and ASW patrols from Australia to New Caledonia, continuing this duty until called to participate in the invasion of Guadalcanal.
Steaming from Sidney 14 July, Jarvis arrived Wellington, New Zealand, the 19th to join Task Force 62, which sailed 22 July for the Solomons. After conducting rehearsal landings in the Fiji Islands 28–30 July, the invasion force of 84 ships and 20,000 Marines steamed for Guadalcanal 31 July. Protected from Japanese search planes by rain and heavy mists, the force arrived off the landing beaches at dawn 7 August.
Following naval and air bombardment of enemy defenses, the first amphibious operation of the war commenced at 0650. Jarvis patrolled watchfully as part of the protective screen while Marines established a beachhead. As landing operations progressed, Americans expected the Japanese to strike vigorously at the transports with land-based planes. However, during two attacks which occurred that afternoon the Americans sustained only minor damage on Mugford (DD-389) while splashing 14 enemy planes.
Following night patrol off the southern end of Savo Island, Jarvis returned to Lunga Point to screen the unloading transports. Warning of an impending air attack suspended these operations; and the transports and their protective screen of destroyers and cruisers deployed in the body of water between Guadalcanal and Florida Island, soon to be called “Ironbottom Sound.” When enemy torpedo bombers appeared about noon 8 August, they met a lethal stream of antiaircraft fire. Only nine of the 26 planes breached the deadly defense of flaming lead but they set George F. Elliot (AP-13) ablaze and torpedoed Jarvis.
With 5-inch shells and machine gun fire pouring out at the attackers, Jarvis maneuvered between Vincennes (CA-34) and one of the planes during the thick of the fight. As antiaircraft fire consumed the plane, its torpedo exploded against Jarvis’ starboard side near the forward fireroom, stopping her dead in the water. Her valiant crew jettisoned the port torpedoes and quickly brought under control the fires that followed the explosion. Dewey (DD-349) towed her to shallow anchorage off Lunga Point; and, after the attack, she crossed “Ironbottom Sound” to Tulagi, where she transferred her wounded and commenced emergency repairs.
Despite a 50-foot gash in her side, she was considered seaworthy and ordered to proceed under cover of darkness to Éfaté, New Hebrides. Apparently unaware of the order, her capable skipper, Lt. Comdr. W. W. Graham decided to steam to Sidney, Australia, for immediate repairs from Dobbin (AD-3). Unnoticed by her own ships, Jarvis departed Tulagi at midnight 9 August and moved slowly westward through “Ironbottom Sound” and between Savo Island and Cape Esperance. At 0134, she passed 3,000 yards northward of Rear Admiral Mikawa’s cruisers, steaming to meet the Americans at the costly Battle of Savo Island. Mistaking her for a cruiser of the New Zealand Achilles-class, they fired torpedoes, and destroyer Yunagi later engaged her briefly, all without effect.
The gallant destroyer, continuing to retire westward, had little speed, no radio communications, and few operative guns; but she refused aid from Blue (DD-378) upon being sighted at 0325. After daybreak, a Saratoga scout plane sighted her 40 miles off Guadalcanal, trailing fuel oil and down by the bow. That was the last time Americans saw her.
The Japanese, however, still mistaking Jarvis for an escaping cruiser, dispatched 31 planes from Rabaul to search out and destroy her. Once discovered, the determined, but badly damaged, destroyer was no match for bombers raking the ship with bullets and torpedoes. According to Japanese records, Jarvis “split and sank” at 1300 on 9 August.
Although she went down with all hands, her sacrifice served a noble purpose. Had not the enemy planes located her, no doubt they would have maintained course for Guadalcanal and pounded the battle-weary American ships as they prepared to depart for Nouméa, New Caledonia.
Jarvis received three battle stars for World War II service.