Today, Saturday, May 21, 2011, I had the honor of bidding farewell Marion “Turk” Turner’s as his ashes were returned to the sea for his eternal patrol. A cool breeze blew in Bataan’s hanger deck this morning as an honor guard, silhouetted by the bright morning sun, stood at attention in their crisp dress white uniforms. There was a white morning haze separating the deep blue sea and a clear blue sky. It was a perfect day to say goodbye.
Turk was born Marion Turner on April 22, 1918 in Moultrie, Georgia and enlisted in the United States Navy in 1939. He became an Electrician’s Mate and immediately volunteered for the submarine service. He served aboard USS Sealion and USS Perch.
While serving aboard Perch, the boat was attacked by Japanese destroyers on March 1, 1942. The Captain quickly submerged the boat, as the enemy quickly closed in on the American submarine. The relentless depth charge attack drove the boat down to 135 feet. Turk and his friends worked through the night patching leaks and they were finally able to resurface early the next morning to get fresh air and recharge their batteries.
The enemy ships spotted Perch when she surfaced and attacked – again. This time the depth charges exploded dangerously close, rupturing one of Perch’s ballast tanks, belching oil and bubbles toward the surface. Perch waited in silence until it was safe to surface again. They patched up all they could but the damage was too severe to allow Perch to submerge again. Unable to submerge, the boat’s captain, Lieutenant Commander David A. Hurt ordered the ship to be abandoned and the submarine scuttled.
Years later, Turner recalled: “… as we were given the order to ‘abandon the boat’ when Perch was going down, our captain was the last man off the conning tower. We were in the water for awhile before the Japanese came by to rescue our crew. We did not know if they were going to shoot us or abandon us to the sea. Hurt was having difficulty treading water as the Japanese ship was rescuing the crew using a rickety ladder.”
The captain told Turner that he “wasn’t going to make it,” and said, “Just leave me Turk, I no longer have the strength to go on, save yourself … leave me.”
“I wasn’t going to listen to that,” Turner remembered, “so I dove down and came up right under him, and I pushed him right up the ladder with him still protesting,”
The entire crew survived that day, but six died later in Japanese POW camps as they all endured cruel beatings, starvation and tropical diseases for three and a half years. Fellow POWs remember Turk for his indomitable spirit. Daily, he would tell his friends, ‘We will be saved tomorrow.’ Turk, his friends and the captain were not rescued until the end of the war. After more than three years of captivity, they returned home to the United States October 17, 1945.
Turk Turner remained in the Navy until he retired on December 1, 1959. He settled in Virginia Beach and because of his POW experience with survivors of the Bataan Death March, became a friend of USS Bataan. Turner made many visits to events sponsored by Bataan until his death on February 28, 2011.
Over sixty years after receiving his injuries while in captivity, Turner was presented the Purple Heart Medal, January 2, 2011 during a ceremony held at King’s Grant Baptist Church in Virginia Beach.
“Turk showed us all courage and humility during and after facing the enormous struggle of a POW,” said Captain Stephen T. Koehler, who as the commanding officer of USS Bataan, pinned the medals on Turner. “He gave us perspective when we thought we were having a bad day. It only takes a thought of him with his struggle over 60 years ago, and the way he handled it with a positive attitude to shed light on our current day-to-day problems.
“He became a friend and inspiration to both me and the crew of Bataan with this positive attitude and his zest for life,” Koehler continued. “He spent a lot of his time with my young Sailors telling stories and relating his time in submarines and as a POW, for which I am grateful. He was truly a great influence on Bataan Sailors in our quest to keep Bataan’s heritage part of our ship.”
Ted Davis, a retired U.S. Navy captain and former commanding officer of the USS Grenadier SS 525, echoed Plantz’s praise.
“There is nothing Turk wouldn’t do or has not already done for his country, his service, his friends, and his family,” said Davis, a long-time friend and member of the Hampton Roads Chapter of the U.S. Submarine Veterans, Inc. “Turk showed us the way a hero walks, softy with love in his heart. He may have spent many tours in Hell, but he served God and country for life.”
This morning, after a short speech and prayer, Turk’s remains were passed to Captain Stephen Koehler, who reverentially placed the ashes under an American flag. Then, Turk was committed to the deep to the sharp shrill whistle of a Boatswain’s Pipe and a final hand salute.
Farewell my brother, may you rest in peace.
Richard S. Lowry is currently embedded with the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, on-station in the Mediterranean Sea with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, aboard USS Bataan LHD 5. Richard is a contemporary military historian, award-winning author and former submarine sailor. He is a member of USSVI’s Central Florida Base and served aboard the USS Ulysses S. Grant SSBN 631 from 1968 to 1975. During that time, he made eight deterrent patrols. Read more about Richard and his work at www.richardslowry.com.Read the full post and comments »