Kilmer bill renames Bremerton post office for Black naval sailor

John Henry Turpin

John Henry Turpin

The House of Representatives has unanimously passed U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer’s legislation to rename the Bremerton Post Office in honor of John Henry Turpin, a distinguished Navy sailor.

Turpin is believed to be the first Black American to qualify as a master diver in a civilian capacity and was one of the first to achieve the rank of chief petty officer in the U.S. Navy. His 30-year career in the Navy included service during the Spanish-American War, the Boxer Rebellion and World War I.

“John Henry Turpin’s outstanding legacy of service to our country is made even more significant by the era of prejudice and discrimination during which he served,” Kilmer said.

“Turpin repeatedly answered the call of duty to his country, served with great distinction and rose in rank throughout his Navy career. His lifelong and selfless commitment to the defense of America, American values and the American way of life is worthy of our recognition and praise. I’m proud that the bill passed the House today with the support of Democrats and Republicans — and will push to see it become law.”

Bremerton Mayor Greg Wheeler said the city is proud and honored to have the post office named after Turpin.

“His courage and his incredible dedication to our nation and to the U.S. Navy set an example for those that served with him and would follow in his footsteps.”

Turpin was born in 1876 and enlisted in the Navy at 20 years of age. During his time as a sailor, he served on USS Maine and later saw action in China during the Boxer Rebellion before being assigned to USS Bennington. As the ship was preparing to sail out of San Diego in 1905, the ship’s boiler exploded. Sixty-six members of the 102-person crew were killed in the explosion, which is still regarded as one of the Navy’s worst peacetime disasters.

Turpin is credited with saving the lives of three officers and 12 sailors by swimming them to shore one at a time.

He went on to serve in World War I before retiring in 1925 and working as a master rigger at Puget Sound Naval Yard. During World War II, Turpin tried to reenlist but was denied because of his age. Instead, he volunteered to tour Navy facilities and defense plants to make inspirational visits to Black American sailors.

A lifelong resident of Bremerton, having first arrived in 1896 and returning after his retirement, Turpin died there in 1962. There are no records of any recognition of his accomplishments at that time.

The post office is at 602 Pacific Ave. in Bremerton.

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