John Henry "Dick" Turpin survived the boiler explosion on
USS Bennington in 1905 in San Diego Harbor.
He also was a member of USS Maine's crew when the ship was destroyed
by an explosion in 1898, one of the incidents leading to the
In both explosions, he saved several lives, according to numerous
articles written about him over the years.
Several publications report he received two Medal of Honor
citations, one for saving the life of Maine skipper C.D. Sigsbee and
several crew members, the other for saving the lives of seven crew
members aboard the Bennington. However, there is no record of Turpin
receiving the medals in Navy or Pentagon records.
His service included diving operations for a sunken submarine off
Honolulu in 1915.
The Navy Historical Center reports that Turpin, who for years was
a diver and master rigger at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, became the
Navy's first black chief petty officer in 1917.
At the time blacks in the Navy were limited to serving as mess
stewards or messmen.
He became qualified as a master diver during his long career and was
also credited with helping to invent the underwater cutting torch
in "Salute," the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard newsletter, and several
Turpin retired as chief gunner's mate in Bremerton in 1925 after
almost 29 years of service, then worked 22 years at Puget Sound
Turpin never wanted to part with the Navy, and according to one
article, he requested mobilization at age 65 when World War II broke
out. The request was turned down, but Turpin "forgot his age" and
managed to remain a reservist.
From 1938 through World War II, Turpin voluntarily made
inspirational visits to Naval Training Centers and defense plants.
He was a guest of honor on the reviewing stand in Seattle when the
first black volunteers were sworn into the Navy shortly after the
attack on Pearl Harbor.
John Henry "Dick" Turpin died in 1962.