National African American History Month in February celebrates the contributions that African Americans have made to American history in their struggles for freedom and equality and deepens our understanding of our Nation””s history. This February, we””ve selected a few African Americans who served in the U.S. Navy to feature here on the blog. For more on the African American Experience in the Navy over the years, visit the Naval History & Heritage Command””s website or the award-winning African Americans and the U.S. Navy presentation.
John Henry Turpin was born on 20 August 1876. Enlisted in the Navy at New York City on 4 November 1896, he was a member of USS Maine’s crew when she was destroyed by an explosion in February 1898. He survived that disaster, and the boiler explosion on USS Bennington in July 1905, as well as serving on several other ships before he left active duty in 1916. Recalled to service when the U.S. entered World War I in April 1917, on 1 June of that that year, Turpin became Chief Gunner’s Mate on USS Marblehead, one of the Navy’s first African-American Chief Petty Officers. He served actively in that rank until transferred to the Fleet Reserve on 8 March 1919. John Henry Turpin retired as a Chief Gunner’s Mate on 5 October 1925.
When not serving on active duty, Turpin was employed at the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Washington, as a Master Rigger. He also qualified, in his civilian capacity, as a Master Diver. From 1938 through World War II, he voluntarily made inspirational visits to Naval Training Centers and defense plants. John Henry Turpin died on 10 March 1962.