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U.S.S. Edson

The U.S.S. Edson on the Open Seas (photo credit.

In its prime, the USS Edson sailed the Pacific Ocean as part of the mighty United States Navy. The Edson was one of the top destroyers to sail the seas from WWII to the 1990s. Now it docks in the Saginaw River in Bay City, MI far from the wars of its past.

The United States Navy Destroyer, U.S.S. Edson was built in 1958 and it’s story begins there. It was a major part of the Vietnam war and attacks we made there. It was these battleships that were used by the Navy in the war. Built after WWII the Sherman type battleships were built with heavy artillery to support land troops from the water so the navy could still be effective in land battles. The Edson was also used in the evacuations of many different Vietnam ports towards the end of the war. Earning commendations for both the battles and evacuations was eventually decommissioned in 1988. Used for Navy training until made into a museum first in New York before being moved to Bay City, MI.

The first chapter written in the lengthy book of the Edson starts in Vietnam. Although the USS Edson originally got its start just before the Vietnam War, the historical significance of the USS Edson was it that it was one of the best battleships during the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War is how it is remembered for. The ship was one of very few Navy ships to take a name of a former general. Named after General Merit Austin Edson. Gen. Edson’s battalion was best known for their skull patch on their uniform and how disciplined they were. To reflect this on the vessel a skull matching the ones worn on the uniforms was painted on the front of the ship. This was a warning to their enemies that the Edson came there to kill or be killed. The ship’s crew reflected General Edson’s battalion. They came there ready for battle and they knew what they had to do and did everything they could for the country. The Edson came from a class of the new and improved battleships designed after learning from their mistakes from WWII and the Korean War. 18 “Sherman-type” battleships were built, the USS Edson being the thirteenth of these. These were the cream of the crop, the best of the best in the Navy. These battleships were made to rule the waves after World War II. These battleships were fitted with the best artillery, they were built for fast sea travel. These vessels were made for land and sea battle. It wasn’t long before they got into action taking the naval mistakes from World War II and Korean War to make the most efficient battleships in the world.

The Vietnam war is one of the most controversial times in the military history of the United States. This is a war most thought that we shouldn’t have gone to war and was just trying to flex our power in a conflict that meant nothing to us. The Vietnam war was a war that was fought to stop the spread of communism. This war had no immediate impact on the United States and we really had no business in going over there. This was part of our new age military perspective of occupying countries and putting in place a government that we see as non-threatening. As part of this new age thinking the new battleships were constructed to help enforce our rules on other countries. They were used to flex on other countries. This was also during the cold war era and the United States had to keep up with the Russian technology. Just like everything else the United States had to be better than Russia. The first time the USS Edson was used was in the Vietnam war as artillery support to land troops. The Sherman type destroyers were also designed to combat submarines. This was one of the big things during World War II. The German U-Boats caused many problems against the ships that the Allied forces had sent over. This was one of the biggest improvements to these battleships. The ability to detect and destroy submarines was a huge step up in battleship technology. Considered the top gun in the US Pacific fleet after WWII earned the nickname “The Destroyer”. This nickname showed that it lived up to the name on the hull.  During its active years the ship took 5 trips into the Vietnam war. The Edson provided support to the land troops by firing from the sea onto the land. The artillery on the ship was so strong and accurate on three different occasions the Edson was involved in evacuation, all successful. These successful missions earned them Meritorious Unit Commendations. Including 3 different Navy Unit Commendations for many successful combat missions. One of those commendations was on the Navy site and detailed the Edson’s service. This particular commendation details its missions from February to July 1967 in Vietnam. The mission was called Sea Dragon. The commendation shows how successful the vessel was at combat. It went into North Vietnam and launched multiple offensive attacks knocking out communication lines, destroying military bases, and against enemy ships. It also provided protection for four different operations. According to this commendation the Edson hit 293 different targets while only being hit one time with minimal damage. This shows how well this ship performed and all the achievements it achieved. The Edson received a commendation 3 different times and made it one of the best naval vessels ever.

In the cruise books from the various voyages of the Edson a common theme is found. The various cruise books authors, all talk about how the crew led to the successes of the Edson. They use phrases like “can do” to describe how the soldiers had no quit. This was high praise from people that expected this already. Another entry talked about how many times the Edson fired her guns. They said they needed replacements because they had used them too much to the point where there was no friction for the artillery to be launched.

USS Edson in the Pacific Ocean (photo credit

The next chapter of the Edson’s journey was the between war period where the Edson and other destroyers like it became unwanted after new technology surpassed it. After the Vietnam War the US keep innovating and before the next war came around the Edson and other Sherman-type destroyers had become obsolete. The USS Edson is the only unmodified Sherman type war ships left. And only one of two remaining Sherman type war ships surviving. The files about the USS Edson had been classified until the 1990’s. Details of the ships massive artillery advancements includes its “Vulcan” gun which could fire 6,000 to 10,000 rounds per minute were then taken by a private company to put on other ships and aircrafts. This made it possible to provide assistance to the land troops and also being able to carry out land attacks from the sea. The ship has many more guns which is why it was so effective as a destroyer. Most articles found were written way after the fact about the expeditions of the Edson. They didn’t make most of the information public so other countries couldn’t copy their design for the powerful destroyers. The fact that much was kept under wraps until way after the fact makes it hard to find information around the time it was active about the destroyer other than some vague articles about a sailor who had served on the boat and died. Most information about its missions were not released until several years later. The descriptions given were in blueprints of the ship and also in the shape of the sail logs that were talked about above. When it was decommissioned it also marked the end of an era, it was the last of Navy ships to have actual guns instead of missiles. Vessels like the Edson were impressive in its time and will forever be remembered for its role in the Vietnam War.

After it’s military life concluded in 1988, it was removed from the Naval list of active vessels. This comes after 30 years of service including combat missions and training exercises. After the Vietnam War it was no longer used as a Naval battleship but was used as a training ground for future sailors. The only recorded accident on board the ship came during its training days when an oil tube became ruptured in the fire room and ignited. Luckily no injuries were caused by this incident and no real damage to the ship was caused. The ship was posted multiple places across the United States to help with training young sailors. It was mostly posted on the east coast close to Annapolis. Training included fake battle missions and what to do when they were struck. Also practicing staying on the cramped quarters. Being inside a Naval ship like this one is amazing to see how they survive in such tight living conditions. The beds are just big enough to fit a normal sized man and the rooms are just big enough to turn around. It takes lots of training to get used to these conditions most people are adapted to. In 1988 the Navy finally retired the ship from its fleet.

In the Edson’s current chapter of life in now sits as a museum in the Saginaw River in Bay City, MI. When it was first released from the Navy the Sea, Air, and Space Museum in New York City put in a claim for the ship and was granted. It sat in the New York Harbor from 1990 until 2004 as part of the museum. Tourists could get on the ship and see and learn about how the sailors lived. When the museum took it over, it was also awarded National Historic Landmark status in 1990. In 2004 the New York museum gave the Edson back to the Navy where it was laid up in a shipyard in Philadelphia. It sat there until the 2010s when a city in Wisconsin and Bay City, Michigan both put in bids to make it into a museum again. Bay City’s bid ended up winning and in 2012 the Edson had a new home in the Great Lakes. It opened up as a museum and now gives tours through the ship and even offers opportunities to stay in the old bunks of the sailors that once called this ship home. It is lucky that so many people wanted to preserve this ship as sometimes there is no interest in these military artifacts because they are seen as junk and not appreciated as much in their time. Like most things the Edson has become more appreciated over time and now people can experience and see with their own eyes the artifacts of years past and how advanced the technology was at the time.

The impact of the Edson can be seen most prominent during the years of United States invasion and battle of Vietnam. The Edson carried on the legacies of the Naval ships that had come before it and used those to become one of the greatest ships the Navy ever had. Although sparse in detail the impact of the U.S.S. Edson was mighty. It was talked about like a legend in the few texts about it. It was a symbol of the United States naval dominance in the Pacific Ocean for the after-World War II. In its thirty years of service it provided evacuations, artillery support, Naval presence, and a training area for new recruits. The versatility of this ship was also important, the numerous things it could be used for made it a jack of all trades and such a useful tool in all situations. For too long the Navy seemed so one dimensional and using what it had learned in its first 200 years the United States made a powerful piece of naval technology that helped it win sea battles in Edson’s time on the sea. The manufacturers drew from lessons learned through the many wars fought on the water before it’s time and using that made this ship so much better and much more versatile. The ship now rests in the quiet current of the Saginaw River far from the waters of North Vietnam and now offers an insight of what life was like living for weeks on end in a cramped area on the sea and fighting the battles of the past. The Edson is a snapshot of history preserved from the decay of time to remind us of the past.

Primary Sources

  1. Secretary of The Navy (1967) Meritorious Unit Commendation
  2. Webster, H.L. (1965-66) USS Edson (DD 946) WestPac Cruise Book 1965-66
  3. Reaves, H.G. (1964) USS Edson (DD 946) WestPac Cruise Book 1964

Secondary Sources

  1. Yfat Yossifor (2015) “10 cool things to see aboard the USS Edson Naval destroyer in Bay County”. Bay City Times.
  2. National Parks Service (1990). National Register of Historic Places Registration Form.
  3. IN BRIEF. (1959). Marine Corps Gazette (Pre-1994), 43(1), 34. Retrieved from Proquest.
  4. Associated Presss. (1988, Dec 17). Last U.S. all-gun ship retired. New York Times. Retrieved from Proquest.

For Further Reading