07.25.19

Rep. Kilmer Leads Effort to Rename Bremerton Post Office After Distinguished U.S. Navy Sailor

Washington, DC - Today, Representative Derek Kilmer introduced a bill, co-sponsored by the entire Washington congressional delegation, to rename the Bremerton Post Office to honor John Henry Turpin, a distinguished U.S. Navy sailor who is believed to be the first African-American to qualify as a Master Diver (1915) and was one of the first African-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.”

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 African-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 would designate 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 his 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 properly reference the facility and use the new name.