Turpin was one of the first African American Chief Petty Officers in the United States. Navy. He is also notable for surviving the catastrophic explosions of two United States. Navy ships: in 1898, and United States Ship Bennington in 1905. He was a Mess Attendant on Maine when it exploded in Havana under mysterious circumstances on the night of 15 February 1898.
Turpin was in the pantry of the wardroom when the explosion occurred, and felt the ship "heave and lift" before all went dark.
He worked his way aft and climbed out of the wardroom on the captain"s ladder and up onto the deck. He dove overboard and was rescued by a motor launch.
Turpin was one of 90 out of the 350 officers and men aboard Maine that night to survive the explosion. According to an obituary that appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Turpin (whose next ship assignment was not reported) saw action in China during the 1900 Boxer Rebellion.
By mid-1905, Turpin had been assigned to the gunboat Bennington.
When that ship was raising steam for a departure from San Diego, California, on 21 July 1905, she suffered a boiler explosion that sent men and machinery into the air and killed 66 of the 102 men aboard. Turpin reportedly saved three officers and twelve men by swimming them to shore one at a time. In 1915 Turpin worked as a diver in efforts to raise the sunken submarine United States Ship F-4 in Honolulu, Hawaii.
He became qualified as a "Master Diver" - most probably the first African-American sailor to do southern
Turpin was also credited with being involved with the development of the underwater cutting torch. Turpin served on several other ships before leaving active duty service in 1916.
After the United States entered World War I in April 1917, Turpin was recalled to service. On 1 June 1917, he became a Chief Gunner"s Mate on the cruiser Marblehead, which made him among the first African American Chief Petty Officers in the United States. Navy.
Turpin served at that rank until he was transferred to the Fleet Reserve in March 1919.
In October 1925, Turpin retired at the rank of Chief Gunner"s Mate. After his retirement from the Navy, Turpin was employed as a Master Rigger at the Puget Sound Navy Yard in Bremerton, Washington. He was also qualified as a Master Diver in his civilian duties.
During World World War II, Turpin tried to return to active service but was denied an account of his age.
He volunteered to tour Navy training facilities and defense plants to make "inspirational visits" to African-American sailors. Turpin died in Bremerton, Washington on 10 March 1962.
At his funeral, his pall bearers were six Navy chief stewards.