TURPIN, John Henry, CPO

USA (1876-1962)

Last updated: March 23, 2020 at 15:29 pm

U.S. Navy Master Diver; one of the first African American Chief Petty Officers (1917) and the first African American Master Diver (1915) in the U.S. Navy; began his navy career as a mess steward; survived the destruction of the USS Maine in 1898, and of the USS Bennington in 1905; saw action in China during the 1900 Boxer Rebellion; saved three officers and twelve men after a boiler explosion destroyed the gunboat USS Bennington in 1905 but was not awarded the Medal of Honor for “extraordinary heroism displayed at the time of the explosion” along with 11 other crewmen; dove during the salvage of the submarine USS F-4 off Honolulu in 1915; served as a Chief Gunner’s Mate aboard the cruiser USS Marblehead during WWI; helped develop underwater cutting and welding techniques as a civilian diver; was the Navy boxing champion in several weight classifications and a boxing instructor at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland; a.k.a. Dick or Big Bill.

Contrary to what is often reported, MCPO Carl Brashear was not the first African-American Master Diver in the U.S. Navy.
U.S. Naval Historical Center
Diving Almanac reader contribution by Francis Hermans (Belgium)

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