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‘It’s what makes you survive:’ On USS Turner Joy, Navy veteran describes Vietnam’s final battle

BREMERTON, Wash. -- “As soon as I walk through there, I am 19 years old again,” says Doug Church, who was a teenaged Petty Officer onboard the USS Turner Joy.

Church loves guiding tours and telling stories about the three years he spent on the Turner Joy, a Navy destroyer--now a floating museum in Bremerton—which was involved in the first and last battles of the Vietnam War.

“There was shrapnel all over the deck from all the rounds we took. I could see all the rounds coming and going.”

What goes through a sailor’s mind in moments like that?

“To be honest it is just what you were trained to do. That’s what makes you survive,” Church says.

Flipping some old pictures of his time on the ship, he stops to admire a picture of sunrise off the coast of Hawaii, taken from the deck of the Turner Joy in 1972.

“This used to be my favorite place on board the ship,” Church says, standing on the deck. “Especially like days like this, you would see whales, porpoise flying fish, sea snakes, sharks... and then at night the waves coming off the balast, was phosphorescent. All the way down the side of the ship, just aglow behind the stern. It was just gorgeous.”

Walking through the narrow halls of decommissioned Destroyer, Church points out his bunk, mess hall, kicthen and the Captain’s bridge, where he says he watched walls of green water cascade over during one oif two Typhoons he and the crew rode out onboard the “TJ”, as he refers to the ship.

“Welcome to my office for 3 1/2 years,” Church says, opening the door that leads into the ship’s darkened radar command center.

“This is where I stood during general quarters for hours and hours and hours.”

But on that screen, he saw some intense pretty images of war.

“I could see the rounds coming in, going out. My job was to look to see if anything else was coming for us.”

Exciting as the tales of battle are, that’s not what Doug remembers most about his days at sea.

“For me, it was the crew. Everybody knew that you had to do your job. And we did. And we were good at it. It started with the captain, and it filtered on down to the last guy. we were TJ shipmates and that’s all that mattered. we were close.”

The sailors that served aboard the Turner Joy remain close. Every other year, the men who served on the ship hold a reunion. Hundreds of veteran sailors have made their way back to the “TJ” over the years. Tours are available 7 days a week on the Bremerton waterfront. For more information, visit USSTurnerJoy.org