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.”
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.
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.
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!
Turnstile Tours offers several tours that highlight New York’s waterfront, past and present, including tours of the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Brooklyn Army Terminal. We also offer guided boat cruises with Classic Harbor Line about the military and industrial history of the harbor.