More History

More Turner Joy History as forwarded by:

VADM Edward S. Briggs, USN Retired (The Ship’s 5th Captain)

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Of all the tools the Navy will employ to control the seas, in any future war, the most useful of the small types of combatant ships — the destroyer — will be sure to be there. It’s appearance may be altered … but no type, not even the carrier or the submarine, has such an assured place in future Navies.”

Admiral Chester W. Nimitz

In reference to the quotation by Admiral Nimitz, USS Turner Joy (DD-951) is just such a destroyer, a general purpose ship of the line, named in honor of the late Vice Admiral Charles Turner Joy whose distinguished career by every measure marked him a naval leader. A “fast ship” in the John Paul Jones tradition, at 3,900 tons she was capable of a broad range of combat operations. Her weapons array of torpedoes, 3″ – 50 and 5″ – 54 naval guns, search and detection radars, sonar, fire control systems, and electronic suites enabled mission assignments including anti-air as well as anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare, battle force screening, intelligence gathering, long-range shore bombardment, and naval gunfire support of land troops.

Indeed, her most unique and extensive naval employment came during the Vietnam conflict when, assigned to the U.S. Seventh Fleet in the western Pacific Ocean, Turner Joy continually engaged from coastal waters tactical targets ashore and close-in enemy maritime logistic support traffic. Her three 5″ – 54 dual purpose naval guns, capable of extended ranges to 12 miles, suited her well for such assignments. At decommissioning in late 1982 the Commander-in-Chief U.S. Pacific Fleet summed up her service: “USS Turner Joy has played a significant role in the success story of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. A veteran of many deployments — both in war and peace — Turner Joy will long be remembered for her heroic actions off the coast of Vietnam. She was there in the beginning when she sank two attacking North Vietnamese torpedo boats … and in the closing chapter … is reported to have fired the Navy’s last round in the Vietnam conflict.”

USS Turner Joy was built by Puget Sound Bridge and Dredging Company, Seattle, Washington. Christened by Mrs. C. Turner Joy, May 5, 1958 and placed in commission August 3, 1959, the ship became an active unit of First, Third and Seventh Fleet Task Forces, conducting training exercises and executing tasks associated with the forward deployment and presence of both carrier and surface battle groups in the Western Pacific. During the period 1960-1964 she won both Commander Cruiser-Destroyer Force and Flotilla Battle Efficiency awards for excellence in performance and deployed three times to western Pacific waters.

Midway through the third deployment in 1964 Turner Joy joined the Ticonderoga (CVA-14) carrier task group, part of Fast Carrier Striking Force, Seventh Fleet (TF-77) operating in the South China Sea approaches to the Gulf of Tonkin. She and US Maddox (DD-731) found themselves on “watchdog” patrols in international waters southwest of the Communist Chinese island of Hainan and along the coast of South and North Vietnam. Such reconnaissance patrols were common practice in troubled times, conducted for the purposes of observing naval activity, assisting South Vietnam naval patrol intercepts of enemy infiltration attempts, and in gathering necessary intelligence on North Vietnamese forces. On August 2, 1964, Maddox was attacked in international waters by North Vietnamese torpedo boats. Maddox sank or damaged two of the Russian-built PT boats; a third and fourth suffered similar fates at the hands of jet fighter aircraft from Ticonderoga. Turner Joy joined Maddox after that sea engagement concluded, and the two ship unit remained on patrol in the Gulf. On the evening of August 4, 1964, after earlier indications of impending attack, the two-ship patrol unit was again engaged by as many as six North Vietnamese PT boats in a prolonged sea battle lasting more than two hours. The enemy reportedly fired torpedoes and their rapid-fire guns in a series of attacks against both ships. Once again jet fighter and attack aircraft of the carrier task group joined the fight and coordinated their efforts with those defensive measures of the two ships. In the end, two PT boats were believed sunk and two badly damaged. Maddox and Turner Joy gave a good account of themselves.

It was, then, the beginning of a period of distinguished combat service for the Turner Joy. Over the next eight-plus years of the Vietnam war she earned nine separate battle stars on her Vietnam Service Medal. Including the “Gulf of Tonkin incident”, she deployed to the Vietnam war zone during a part of each year from 1964 through 1973. Her principal tasks in each of those deployments were long-range shore bombardment and naval gunfire support during long periods of Task Group 70.8 “gunline” operations off the coast of South Vietnam. These tasks included destruction of fixed elements of Viet Cong infrastructure, logistic targets of opportunity, enemy troop and weapons concentrations, close support of friendly troops, and night harassing fire. When assigned to “Sea Dragon” operations under Task Force 77, primary tasks included shore bombardment against North Vietnamese strategic targets, maritime logistic traffic, and counterbattery fire against coastal artillery and air defense batteries located proximate to the coastline.

Some examples illustrative of these missions help tell the story. In 1965, Turner Joy conducted the first ever naval gunfire support mission of South Vietnam’s west coast, while operating in the Gulf of Thailand. During some 100 missions of the 1966/67 deployment the ship fired over 9,000 rounds of 5″/54 and 3″ 50 ammunition at targets located in both South and North Vietnam. During Sea Dragon operations the ship received counterbattery fire from coastal defense batteries, suffering minor damage to the superstructure and several spaces below the main deck. In the six months of Gulf of Tonkin operations during 1968, Turner Joy expended nearly 24,000 rounds of 5″ and 3″ gun ammunition during some 200 assigned missions accomplishing a variety of tasks in both South and North Vietnam.

Regunned in 1972 with the first 5″/54 Mod 10 mounts in the Pacific Fleet, Turner Joy was there at the end of the Vietnam conflict. During the last month of the war, the ship fired over 10,000 rounds from the new rapid fire mounts supporting the combined military effort in South Vietnam at the DMZ and conducting Sea Dragon naval gunfire strike operations against enemy targets and shore batteries in North Vietnam. Turner Joy fired the last naval gunfire against opposing forces as the ceasefire began on January 27, 1973.

She steamed on as part of the Seventh Fleet for two additional deployments during the years 1974-1976, participating in a succession of fleet operations and exercises as well as combined operations from the Sea of Japan to the Tasman Sea, into the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf. Even as the newer, more capable Sprunce class destroyers entered the fleet in 1975, Turner Joy remained a Battle Group mainstay in both Third and Seventh Fleets.

During the years 1977-1979 the ship underwent extensive overhaul and repair to rehabilitate primarily the 1200 lb steam propulsion system. In 1980 she was once again an active element of both Fleets of the Pacific, exercising in joint and combined operations from California waters to the South China Sea. In 1982 the Navy decided to decommission the Forrest Sherman class ships. It marked the end of an era — the end of the sleek “gunships” that performed so well in open ocean combat as well as providing naval gunfire support and long-range bombardment in the war years. In November 1982 her commissioning pennant was hauled down. She had earned her place in history, and performed with distinction. During her 23 years of service she earned the Navy Unit Commendation, three Battle Efficiency “E’s”, numerous Force and Flotilla departmental awards, and the respect of those who served her so well — the destroyermen who made her heart beat in the face of wartime challenges and peacetime naval operations in the troubled waters of the world.

And she lives on, as the Flagship of the Bremerton Historic Ships Association, and a permanent educational Navy memorial. She honors now not only the men and women of our modern U.S. Navy, but also recognizes the accomplishments of those who help to build and maintain the Navy’s ships as well. She took her place in the long line of destroyers characterized by Admiral Nimitz — from Bambridge (DD-1) in 1902 to Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) in 1991. Turner Joy (DD-951) was sure to be there when called upon to serve.

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