News Brooklyn Navy Yard / Shipspotting

USS Edson: From Bath to Brooklyn to Bay City

On a quiet stretch of the Saginaw River just outside Bay City, Michigan, the USS Edson sits as a tribute to America’s Cold War destroyer fleet. Built at Maine’s Bath Iron Works in 1958, the Forrest Sherman-class ship was an all-gun destroyer (hull numbers DD), soon to be replaced by guided missile-armed ships (DDG). By the time Edson was retired after 30 years of service, it was the last of the old guard, sporting three 5-inch guns instead of Tomahawk and Harpoon missiles like its modern counterparts.

Today, a 5-inch gun is the largest you will find on any US Navy ship – the battleships and their 16-inchers are long gone – and you will not find a ship with more than one. That is why Edson’s battery earned it an unofficial motto: “Three guns, no waiting.”

Bow view of destroyer Edson taken from the shore, a grey ship with number 946 on the bow in the Saginaw River with a marsh and tree to the left.
USS Edson in the Saginaw River, November 2019.

Edson is a relatively new addition to Michigan’s fleet of historic naval ships, and this is not its first stop as a museum ship. Shortly after decommissioning in 1988, Edson joined the Intrepid Museum and remained on display for 15 years. During that time, the destroyer was lovingly cared for by Paul Spampanato, the ship’s manager at Intrepid, who worked at the museum alongside his father Gary. Paul died aboard Edson of a heart attack, working on Thanksgiving Day, 1999, and he was posthumously recognized for his preservation work by the Historic Naval Ships Association.

Stern view of a large grey destroyer sitting on keel blocks in the bottom of a concrete dry dock with a large blue, windowless building on the right.
USS Edson in Dry Dock 6 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, April 2004. Credit: Nick Kanderis

In 2003, Edson‘s time at Intrepid came to an end. The museum needed to do extensive construction on Pier 86, to make room for the retired Concorde, and there was no longer any space for the destroyer. The ship was returned to the Navy, but before it could be put up for donation again, it needed extensive repairs to its hull, which had become severely corroded. It made a short trip up the East River to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where GMD Shipyard worked on it in Dry Dock No. 6.

Bow view of an old retired destroyer, grey, with its mast removed.
Edson’s sister ship, USS Barry DD-933, at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, October 2018.
Five retired Navy ships line up side by side, with grey paint that has turned pink.
Retired ships at the Philadelphia Navy Yard (L to R): USS Boulder LST-1190, unknown LKA, USS Charles F. Adams DDG-2, USS Yorktown CG-48, and USS Ticonderoga CG-47, October 2018.

From there, Edson was transferred to another Navy Yard, the Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, where it sat awaiting adoption. Today another Forest Sherman destroyer USS Barry is in mothball there awaiting disposal. This ship also served as a longtime museum ship at the Washington Navy Yard, but declining visitorship, maintenance costs, and a new fixed-span bridge that would have trapped it in the Anacostia River, all spelled the end of the Barry as a museum ship. 

In 2012, the Saginaw Valley Naval Museum was awarded Edson, and it was towed for three weeks and 2,500 miles up the St. Lawrence, through the Great Lakes to Saginaw Bay in Lake Huron. Less than eight months later, they welcomed their first visitors in May 2013. So if you are ever in the area, stop by and visit them!