December 23, 2020

Kilmer’s Bill to Rename Bremerton Post Office After Distinguished U.S. Navy Sailor Signed Into Law

Washington, D.C. – On December 21, Representative Derek Kilmer’s legislation to rename the Bremerton Post Office in honor of John Henry Turpin, a distinguished U.S. Navy sailor, was signed into law by the President.

The legislation, which passed the House and the Senate unanimously this fall, honors the lifelong resident of Bremerton, who is believed to be the first Black American to qualify as a Master Diver, in a civilian capacity, and was one of the first Black Americans to achieve the rank of Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy. His thirty-year career in the U.S. 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.” said Rep. Kilmer. “Turpin repeatedly answered the call of duty to his country, served with great distinction, and rose in rank throughout his Navy career. His life-long 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 through Congress with the support of Democrats and Republicans – and I’m thrilled to see it signed into law.”

“We are proud and incredibly honored to have our historic downtown post office named after John Henry Turpin,” said City of Bremerton Mayor Greg Wheeler. “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. We are pleased that we can recognize Turpin’s extraordinary life and legacy in his home community of Bremerton.”

“The renaming of the downtown Bremerton post office is an important opportunity to recognize and memorialize a man who was a trailblazer in his field. Bremerton has a very rich history and it’s exciting to have this recognition of Mr. Turpin and his groundbreaking accomplishments in the Navy. The Living Arts Cultural Heritage Project is proud that his name and legacy will be further highlighted in the Bremerton community. The late Bishop Lawrence R. Robertson labored diligently for over 40 years in hopes that one day our African American leaders in Kitsap County would be recognized and honored for their contributions, labor and sacrifices. We are sad he isn’t here to see it come to pass but we are so proud and greatly appreciative of Congressman Kilmer,” said Karen Vargas, Founder, Living Arts Cultural Heritage Project.

“Chief Gunner’s Mate John Henry “Dick” Turpin was a trailblazer. Entering in the Navy before it was integrated in 1942 was the beginning of the path he left for those that followed him. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Association (NAACP) established in 1909 considers this honor as a way to educate the public and recognize the contribution of John Henry Turpin as an African American hero, not only for his military service, but the work he did. The NAACP Unit 1134 Bremerton/Kitsap Branch established in 1943 is honored to have had Chief Gunner’s Mate John Henry Turpin retire in our community and to support Congressman Kilmer in bringing this honor to the Bremerton Community is near and dear, as a Veteran of the United States Navy, I benefited from his good works,” said Tracy S. Flood, ESQ, President, NAACP Unit 1134 

Turpin was born in 1876 and enlisted in the Navy at age 20. 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 USS Bennington 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 twelve sailors by swimming them to shore one at a time.

Turpin 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 re-enlist but was denied because of his age. Instead, he volunteered to tour Navy training facilities and defense plants to make inspirational visits to Black American sailors. A lifelong resident of Bremerton, having first arrived there 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. 

Representative Kilmer’s bill designates the United States Postal Service facility located at 602 Pacific Avenue in Bremerton, Washington, as the “John Henry Turpin Post Office Building.” In recognition of Turpin’s achievements and service, almost sixty years after his death and nearly 120 years since his enlistment in the U.S. Navy, this bill would require that any mention in any law, map, regulation, document, paper, or other record of the United States government properly reference the facility and use the new name. 

The legislation was co-sponsored by the entire Washington Congressional Delegation.