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History, mis-history and mystery aboard the USS Turner Joy

Floating history in Bremerton

The USS Turner Joy floats peacefully in her moorage just beyond Bremerton’s naval shipyards. Photo credit: Jessica Corey-Butler

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You expect certain things from a naval museum. History. War stories. And ships; of course, you expect to see drawings of ships, models of ships, and facts and figures about ships. You get all this when you go to a certain museum in Bremerton, but you get so much more. You get to board a destroyer that has stories to tell and a tangible energy all her own.  This energy is one part historic gravitas, one part playful enthusiasm derived from the various activities that have taken place aboard her, and one part romance - with a dash of ghostly interaction, irony, and a smattering of "did she or didn't she" controversy.

The first thing you'll notice about the USS Turner Joy Museum is that she's a ship, as her name suggests.  Specifically, she's a destroyer, affectionately called a "tin can" (alluding to the light, aluminum construction) or a "greyhound" (alluding to her relative speed in the fleet).

Commissioned in 1959 and decommissioned in 1982, she happened to be in the Gulf of Tonkin Aug. 2, 1964, when the USS Maddox called for support after enemy boats fired at the Maddox, unprovoked - an event that sparked the Vietnam War.  

As the war progressed, the Turner Joy was utilized mostly to add coastline gunfire support. It was in this capacity on Jan. 28, 1973, that she fired the final round of naval gunfire of the Vietnam War, just before the ceasefire was announced.

She was hit a few times, too, although controversy exists as to exactly what the situation was when she fired her first rounds on Aug. 4, 1964. While there was no damage to her hull on that day, during a peacetime patrol, a fisherman interrupted a game of cards between two officers when his gunfire ripped through the hull less than five feet from where they sat.  

Moved from California to Washington, the Turner Joy became a museum in 1991.  In service, she carried a crew of 17 officers and 175 enlisted men.  Currently, her "crew" exists of a 16-member board of directors, a small paid staff (about five people in the winter months) and a core group of roughly 18 Vietnam veterans who volunteer their service as docents aboard the ship.  

Activities aboard the ship range from the sorts of things you'd expect:  daily ship tours, reunions, memorials and ceremonies, like a recent Gold Star Families remembrance ceremony.  Then there are the less-expected activities, like overnight adventures, weddings, and other special event rentals.

Recently, the cast and crew of the TV show Z Nation rented the boat for a day of filming: a fitting set given the ship's reputation for on-board paranormal activity, which visitors can experience for themselves on tours run by paranormal experts through Spooked in Seattle tours.

In late October, visitors can come to visit The Haunted Ship 2015 - The Paranormal Experience, described as a "ghost hunt gone bad."  This partnership between A.G.H.O.S.T and the Bremerton Historic Ships Association promises thrills and chills, and may leave visitors to wonder: Was that a cast member? Or was that real?

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