The USS Edson, DD-946 sits at its port in Bay City, MI. She is one of the most impressive military ships I have ever had the pleasure of touring, and that is all thanks to Bill Randall and the other volunteers working at the Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum! You can soon have your very own experience aboard the ship and take in all the history she has to offer. In March of 2022, she will reopen to the public, weather permitting. The Edson is located at 1680 Martin St., Bay City, MI 48706. (P) 989-684-3946. You can find their website here for all the info you need to visit on your own: https://www.ussedson.org/visit/book-your-visit/
Here are some details about the USS Edson:
Type of ship: Forrest-Sherman Class Destroyer
Commissioned: November 7, 1958
Decommissioned: December 15, 1988
Nickname: "The Grey Ghost of the Vietnamese Coast"
Built by: Bath Iron Works in Maine in 1958
Home Port: Long Beach, California
Locations served: Western Pacific / Far East, including the Taiwan Strait and off the Coast of Vietnam, and the Gulf of Tonkin
Only 1 of 2 surviving Forrest-Sherman Class Destroyers
Displacement: 4,050 Tons at full load and 2,800 Tons standard
418 feet long
She had 17 officers and 218 enlisted
History of Service
The Edson took part in many different missions over the years that she was an active military ship during the Vietnam era, but I will talk about some of the most well-known ones. One of the first assignments was providing supplies to the US Embassy in Lima, Peru in mid-February of 1959. While training after that along the west coast, from her home port in Long Beach, California, she was deployed in the far east, patrolling the Taiwan Strait, and did many types of exercises off Okinawa and Japan. In August of 1961, she was deployed for the second time to WESTPAC (Western Pacific). For 3 months she worked closely with the attack carriers USS Ranger and USS Ticonderoga, before patrolling the Taiwan Strait and the mainland of Communist China that December.
In 1964, she had her 3rd WESTPAC Deployment where they began duties with the Taiwan Patrol Force CTF72. In May-July of '64, they provided gunfire support training in the Philippines, following a special operations mission in the Gulf of Tonkin, where she was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation for exceptionally meritorious service.
On December 12, 1974, there was a fire caused by the ignition oil which was spraying from a rupture in a lube oil gauge line. The Edson was decommissioned on December 15th, 1988 and towed to the Philadelphia Inactive Ships Maintenance Facility for storage. At the time she was decommissioned, she was the last all-gun destroyer in the US Navy. Below are some pictures from over the years while on deployment. A lot of the pictures were posted by sailors and members of the USS EDSON DD946 1958-1988 Facebook Group.
Quite amazing, huh? Well, if you want to know even more about this beautiful ship, read on ahead in one of the most in-depth and photo heavy articles I have ever written. So first, let's take a look at the outside! You might think, something this big has to have a really thick hull of steel between the inside and outside. Well, you would be quite surprised to know that it is only as thick as a cell phone!! Yup, that's it, that's all that was between you and the deep waters of the pacific if you were on board during the Vietnam War. This thin hull gave the ship the advantage of speed. Referred to as a "Tin Can," a destroyer needed to move fast, and by having the thinner hull walls, it greatly increased their speed and mobility. Below are some pictures of the outside of the USS Edson. (Click to enlarge)
As I pulled into the parking lot, I was greeted with this awe-inspiring side view spanning 418 feet just waiting to tell its story. Instantly as I got closer, I could see 3 massive 5-inch 54 Caliber guns on the front, middle, and back area. If it is a spring day, you can take a walk down to the boat launch just to the south of the ship, to get a view of the bow, or if it is winter, like I when I went, join the ice fishers out on the frozen lake and walk right up to her!
When I was ready to start my journey, I made my way to the trailer building at the end of the dock; inside there are tons of awesome gifts in their gift shop for all the swag lovers: T-Shirts, hats, toys, challenge coins, pins, magnets, keychains, and more! (I'm a big swag guy myself).
I had the chance to tour with Bill Randall, a navy man himself who has been working at the museum for more time than he was on his ship during deployment! He takes so much pride in the tours he gives people. He is a complete encyclopedia when it comes to the history of the Edson and the workings of everything inside; without him this article would not be possible. We started off taking the short and slippery walk toward the stern of the ship, up a wood and rope ramp which I could definitely feel move beneath my feet. The water is not too deep, about 10-16 feet right by the dock, and about 30 feet further out. As I made my way up the ramp, I was greeted by one of the main 5inch guns. The deck was covered in snow and very slick, but I made my way right in front of the massive barrel to see where the shell casings were ejected out onto the deck and piled up after being fired off. After a battle, there would sometimes be hundreds of casings. The power of this gun was incredible; it could fire 35 rounds per minute and has a 13-mile range! The biggest use for this gun was to provide on shore troop support during the Vietnam War. The 50-cal rounds were loaded below from a massive mechanism and then brought up into the main turret and loaded. As you can see the 3rd picture from the bottom, the best way to get all of the ammunition into the storage area was a line of sailors, one passing it down from the top deck, into the lower level, and the lower deck into the storage. No wonder sailors were in such good shape! Each round weighed almost 70 pounds! See Below: (Click to enlarge image)
As we made our way to the south of the gun, we entered into the first door, which had showers in the corridor and 2 hatches on either side, leading down into the berthing area. This back part of the ship is where the enlisted members would live. The showers also served as a chemical rinse off, in case of emergency.
Down the passageway and off to the left was one of my favorite rooms: it was where the ammo was loaded for the middle gun, also a 5" 50 caliber heavy duty piece of machinery. As I walked inside, I could see multiple rounds along one of the walls, a high voltage power source and a separate unit in the back that that housed none other than... THE RED BUTTON. They always say, "Don't press the red button" and that was quite true here! The red button was the manual override for the gun we stood next to. If the operator up top was injured or killed, the person sitting at that machine could manually launch the weapon. The entire mechanism that loaded the rounds and turned everything in the direction it needed to be was very loud, and the space was definitely tight quarters, if you're claustrophobic this probably is not the job for you!
Below: Photo Slider (arrows)
The next area was the lower level of the berthing quarters for the enlisted sailors. Bill explained to me that the hatch leading down these steps was actually put in for the public and not the original size, like the ones toward the back area. The company who made these special modifications when the ship turned into a museum did an awesome job! The first wide open space was where the Chief Petty Officer stayed. Displayed around the room were original uniforms and items from during the time the Edson was on active duty, hedgehogs (which took the place of the less accurate depth-charges) and it also included the history of the man the ship was named after: General Merit Austin Edson. He was awarded the Medal of Honor while serving as Commanding Officer of the First Marine Raider Battalion on Guadalcanal, and the Navy Cross and Silver Star for other actions in World War II. The Diorama was built by hand to scale of what the battle looked like. It was made by the Mid-Michigan Model Makers and took over a year to make. It was originally made for a competition and then donated to the ship afterward. His battalion was best known for the skull patch you see painted on the outside of the ship and on their uniform. It reminded enemies that they mean business; they were there to either kill or be killed. The Edson was part of the new and improved battleships, after learning from mistakes that were made in WWII and the Korean War. There were 18 Sherman-type battleships made, and this was the 13th.
The room just toward the stern of the ship was where the coffin racks were located! No, not actual coffins, but it sure felt like it! The size of these beds was very small, with storage underneath the mattress and your face right under the bottom of the person above you. I guess the ones who had the top bunk were a little luckier to have a few more inches of headroom. While they were at sea, sailors would have to tie themselves down to the bed so they would not go flying out while hitting a big wave. One of the cool things about this area, is they allow people to sleep in these very bunks! Many times, throughout the year, the Edson hosts Boy Scout groups, ghost hunt groups, and others to come stay on board and experience life aboard ship for themselves.
Below: Thumbnail image slider, (black arrow on side). - Click to enlarge images.
As we made our way around the area and back closer to the stern, there were articles and old pictures from after the Edson returned from the Vietnam War, telling the experiences of the battles she fought in, and how she was known as one of the best Destroyers in the Pacific. She was a top contender for the amount of cover fire she sent inland during battles, playing such an integral role in various operations. One fun fact about the Edson, was that she was the filming location of The Twilight Zone, S4E2 "The Thirty Fathom Grave," which originally aired in 1963. You can check out the episode HERE.
Below: Items that came off a Russian Ship during NATO exercises. There was likely vodka in these, at least for a few minutes!
So, what happens if the engine steam turbines stopped and there was no power to the ship? Well, this next room had the solution. It was a massive diesel backup generator, used for emergency power only. Whenever the ship was underway, there would always be a sailor in the room, on a 4-hour shift just in case it needed to be started up. Even though it was not enough to power the entire ship, it was enough to get out of the way of military fire if needed! There were 2 of these, one located in the front of the ship, and the one in the back. (Click to enlarge image)
As I continued on into the next room, we entered the "after-steering room" which was the very back of the ship, butting up against the stern wall. With massive black caps on either side, covering the rudders for easy access in case you needed to get to them, an electric machine powers a hydraulic pump that is linked to the bridge, so when you turn the wheel, the rudders also turn. There were always 2 men in this room, in case the power was lost, and they had the ability to steer the ship from another wheel located in this room on the back of the machine. Talk about a challenging way to operate the ship! The bridge would be calling down commands on which directions to steer and the sailors would use the compass and the rudder heading indicator. Now if the motor failed, they would be in for a real workout because it would have to be done manually by setting a large handle on the end of the shaft and cranking it by hand! That is, if you didn't pass out from the extremely high heat that was building up around you. The ratio for the turn is 5:1, five turns of the shaft, for every one degree of turn on the rudder.
Above: The first image - second row up is the very bottom of the ship.
As we made our way back through the generator room, we came across the machine shop. This is one of the most important rooms on the ship, because when you are out at sea, in the middle of the Pacific, there are not many Home Depots floating in the open waters, so many things had to be fabricated and fixed right on board, and this is where it was done. There was also a welding room next door. For some of the bigger projects, they would have the chance to stop at a port and have things worked on, but a lot of the materials they needed were right on board! (Click to enlarge image).
The next stop, on the other side of the berthing quarters was the "aft-engine room." As I entered into the area, I was greeted by a massive 1200PSI steam powered turbine which gets super-heated to 800 degrees. At almost 13000 RPM, the steam gets pushed through the turbines and sounds very similar to a jet engine, and the constant temperature of the room itself is a whopping 125 degrees. This job is not for everybody! To keep from dehydrating, the sailors working in this room would eat salt tablets, since Gatorade was not a thing! If you worked in the room with a blue shirt, it would not be blue by the time you left; it would turn white from all the salt deposits. The gears inside were owned by GE (General Electric) who leased them to the navy. If they needed to be replaced, there was only one way to do it: they would put the ship in dry dock, cut a hole in the bottom of the hull, drop it out and load the new one, then weld everything back into place.
Next to the turbines was the flash distillery. This is what makes the fresh water from the sea water.
There was also a wall with tons of different gauges, reading the pressures of the steam and the throttle for the ship, to make it go faster or slower, depending on how much steam was let in. The engine room telegraph was also part of this wall. Most people will recognize it from the famous scene in Titanic that has the brass crank that moves from one word to the other. This device tells the ship how fast to go from the bridge to the engine room. A bell would go off to notify the people working down there of the change.
Off to the right of this area, were the generators that ran off steam and generated enough energy to light up 3000 houses. The SSTG tag stands for Ship Service Turbine Generator.
As I headed into the next area toward the front of the ship, we entered the boiler room, the place where the steam was made! Hanging on the wall as I entered the room was a poem about the people who worked in the boiler room. It talked about how all of the heroes are on the deck, firing the guns, but the workers in the boiler room are often forgotten, and that if the ship did get hit, it was very possible they would die. (Click to enlarge)
Another part of this room was the HPAC, high pressure air compressor, which was responsible for creating 3000 PSI pressure to launch the torpedoes! There were 6 torpedo tubes on board that were anti sub torpedoes, which each held 3 torpedoes.
Off to the right of this were the 2 Wilcox and Babcock boilers! They were 2 decks high with the water drums above and the fire boxes down below. If you do end up taking the tour yourself, make sure you stay with the guide, or you could end up like Ernie...LOL. RIP
The steam that comes from these massive tanks is superheated to 800 degrees. It had to be a very dry and hot steam, because you can't put water through your turbine, or it could become unbalanced, and at 13,000 RPM, that would not be good.
I made my way down the ladder to the lower part of the boilers where the fire boxes were located. This was one of my favorite areas of the ship. There were so many different colors of gauges and yellow pipes of fuel leading every which way. The fuel tanks are 227,000 gallons, which equals 750 tons of fuel and a range of 4,000 miles. They took on fuel once a week to replenish, and as the ship was always on the move, the 47 gallons per mile (NOT MPG) is why they filled up so much! There were tons of additional gauges that displayed pressures and even a fire system behind the boiler that would be charged up which had brass fixtures on the pump, due to the salt water. Everyone in that area knew what the buttons and switches meant, and everyone was on their toes if a fire ever did break out. Seconds could be extremely critical when it came to having a fire in this area or anywhere on the ship. Luckily there was an escape scuttle, which leads up and has a watertight door, so if there was any kind of disaster, the crew would be able to evacuate the area. Below are some pictures of this lower-level area, including a periscope, which actually played a very important part in making sure there was no black smoke coming out the stack. If there ever was, that could be seen for miles and would definitely cause issues. You don't want to hear from the big guy about that!
As we made our way back upstairs toward the front of the ship, we entered "Broadway," not the one you're thinking of, but the name of the passageway that led us to the Chief Petty Officers' dining room. Even though they still ate the same food as everyone else, they did have additional perks! Inside the room was an amazing display of artifacts, pictures, hats from other ships, and items that were in the ship store, that sailors could actually buy themselves.
Below: Layout of the ship
The next area was the officer living quarters, which was different from the one for the enlisted due to the privacy they had. Some had individual rooms and others had 2 bunks in an area that were larger than the enlisted bunks with their 12 in an area. The XO (Executive Officer)'s room had a Murphy bed that folded up into the wall and allowed for a couch when it was up. The gunnery stay-room had 2 bunks with portholes to see if it was sunny or raining out as well as much more storage! There was a large locker area right as you enter the room, (rather than just lifting up your bed and placing your belongings in there like in the enlisted quarters). Another nice touch was that they had a railing that went over the front of the bunk to keep you from falling out, as opposed to the enlisted area where you needed to tie yourself in!
Below: Slideshow (4 Pictures)
Moving forward, we came to the medical bay. It was a very small room with one bed. They did not have any doctors on board, only hospital corpsman, but surgery was done in this very room. If you did need a doctor, they would be flown in from another location like an aircraft carrier. Fun fact: Much of the episode from The Twilight Zone was filmed in this room!
Next stop was the mess deck! Back when the ship was underway, this is where everyone ate, and currently they are able to hold weddings, birthdays, reunions, and other events in this space. Within this area was also the barber shop and an escape hatch that led down into the forward engine room which is now the wishing well! At the very bottom there is a bell. Many people try to hit it with coins; however, it is not as easy as it looks! It's almost an optical illusion because the way the ship is positioned it is actually going uphill, so in order to hit the bell, you will need to throw it further to the right side, since it will fall back left. If you do try for yourself, make sure Bill Randall is there and he will give you a dollar if you do hit it, LOL. Many have tried; only few have done it, I tried myself and did not come close.
The galley still works and is used for the events on board to keep food warm. The crew ate very well, and as Bill said, the "Navy got the gravy, and the Army got the beans!" After eating a good meal, if you wanted to get a snack, you could head to the next room where the ship's store was located and grab a candy bar or anything else you might need. The price was definitely right, very cheap and tax free.
On the way into the next area of the ship was the records room, which held all the information on all sailors aboard, and also the ship's bank which had tons of money stored in the safe on the floor. Everyone was paid in cash, but if you really planned on trying to steal it, I'm not sure how far you would get, LOL. The Wardroom was the next big area, and this is where the officers ate. They did not eat the same food as others did; they had an allotment of money and could buy their own groceries. They also had their own chef, who would be able to make them what they wanted to eat.
Other than eating, this room also served as a meeting room, where you did not want to find yourself (because it usually meant you were in trouble for something). There were surgical lights above the table, because this room was also used for performing surgeries. One surgery was done in the case of Jim Walker, who was a gun captain that got hit with shrapnel when the ship was attacked. He returned fire and managed to take out some of the shrapnel from his own shoulder, but due to the amount of adrenaline he had, he did not realize the severity of his injury until afterwards. The ship's motto was "3 guns, no waiting", which was displayed on a plaque just below the names of all the officers who made 30 years on the ship and then retired. Along the back wall was a flag that was flying on the USS Selfridge during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Below: Click image to enlarge.
The next hallway over had a hatch that led downstairs into another berthing area where officers would stay, as well as a room that had TONS of history, the 9-11 Room. During the attacks, the Edson was stationed in Manhattan. This area originally had bunks in it but was converted to a command cell for 3 weeks, with computers, radios, and tables to be used by the FBI and Navy. It is now used as a classroom when people come stay on the ship.
On the other side of this room were more berthing areas, including one with an air conditioning unit, the first of its kind, as others did not have that. It sure helped with the hot weather days! The head area (bathroom) was recently redone and is currently used for overnights in the springtime. The toilets are quite close to the deck floor, to make sure you don't go flying off when a big wave is hit! On the other side of this area was the anchor room, where the chains would be brought up and lowered. When the anchors dropped, they would free fall and make tons of noise, as they weighed almost 6 tons! So be sure you have your earplugs in. Also in this area was the very front of the ship called the bosun's locker. The bosun mates took care of the exterior of the ship. This is said to be one of the most haunted areas of the ship; people come from all over the US and even overseas to do readings and try to witness the paranormal for themselves. The other part of the ship that has been known for such hauntings is the hatch I went down to get into the area. The caretaker of the ship for 13 years had a heart attack right at the top of the steps and unfortunately died when he fell below. Below: Slideshow
As we made our way back up, we were almost at the end of the tour. The first of the remaining spots was the radio communications room. The room was kept at about 60 degrees, nice and cool to make sure the vacuum tubes did not fail. Within the room, they could talk to the world, and a lot of the stuff that came in would be encrypted and need to be decoded in order to read it. The room right behind housed the machine to do that decoding. You would need to have top secret security clearance to be in there, (not going to lie, I felt really special at that moment, LOL). Within the room was all kinds of information on all of the Soviet subs and ships. The codes to the decoder would be changed every day. There was a small room attached that had file cabinets with locks on them, which held the codes.
Across the hall was the Admiral stay room, complete with a nice shower and plenty of space. While most crew only had 3 minutes to take a freshwater shower to save on water, the admiral probably didn't have a time limit. The room next to this was the captain's room while the ship was at port. There was a bed that was folded into the wall, complete with a desk and bathroom, so when the ship was at port, he was able to conduct business from there. Within this room was rests one of the captains, John Holmes. Complete with a picture from a previous reunion on board, his wife brought his ashes to stay in the room after he passed away a few years ago.
Another artifact featured in the room was a massive piece of shrapnel, originally found in the bed right behind it. The edges were super jagged, so pulling it out would be extremely painful to say the very least; that is, if you survived!
The next room was the Combat Information Center, or CIC. This was one of my personal favorite areas of the ship! This is where your radar and sonar would be kept, so all of the enemy aircrafts would show up in here. All of the parts are original in the room. One piece was the status board which the person would write on with a grease pen from the back side, so he would need to write backwards. Another interesting part was the IFF, Identification Friend or Foe. How it works is it would send a signal to the aircraft's transponder, and if the right reply was not received that would show it is an enemy.
The last area was the bridge, the ship's steering center. Within this area would be the helmsman, lee helmsman, a person on both radars, and the navigation. Everyone else would hang on to the bar built into the ceiling. Don't plan on sitting in either one of the blue chairs on the side; those were for the captain only.
According to tripadvisor.com this tour is the #1 thing to do in the Bay City area. Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum, Bay City - Tripadvisor. If you have a chance to stop by in March, I HIGHLY recommend doing so. Plan on at least being here a few hours to take in all of the magnificent things this ship has to offer, and another few hours in the gift shop if you're like me, LOL. You can find out all of the tour information as well as events that will be taking place at Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum – Home of the USS Edson (the official website)
I would like to thank Bill Randall and the entire group of volunteers who made this tour possible. Many of the historic pictures were found online through Wikipedia, the Hull Number website: USS EDSON (DD-946) Deployments & History (hullnumber.com) and the USS Edson Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/125076834759760/
I hope you enjoyed the tour and have a chance to witness this beautiful ship for yourself soon. Pictures do not do it justice! Thank you for your ongoing support, and please share this so other can witness the Edson as well!