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Take Me There Tuesday - The USS Edson

Updated: Mar 26

USS Edson, J&C Photography, Photography, Michigan, Fine Art

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:

The Stats 

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. 

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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.