The history of the USS Edson, docked in Bay City, includes ghosts, 9/11, and two museums

Since 2012, the USS Edson DD-946 has been docked along the Saginaw River as the Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum.

Before arriving in Bay City, the ship had a remarkable history and service record dating back to the 1950s. Over its 30-year U.S. Navy career, it had seen numerous awards and commendations for its service, was part of another museum at one time, and may even be haunted.  

The ship is named for Major General Merritt Austin Edson of the U.S. Marine Corps, 1897-1955. It is one of the few destroyers named for a Marine Corp. veteran and is a Forrest-Sherman class destroyer.

On Jan. 27, 1956, the ship was ordered, and the keel was laid on Dec. 3 of that year at Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine. On Jan. 4, 1958, it was launched by Edson’s widow, Ethel Robins Edson, and commissioned on Nov. 7, 1958. It would go on to serve 12 tours of duty in Vietnam, says Board President and Air Force Veteran Michael Buda.

On Nov. 25, 1965, it departed for West Pac with the USS Kitty Hawk for Naval Gunfire Operations on the South Vietnamese coast. The ship’s “long gun,” or the 5inch/54 caliber main battery, was noted for its accuracy during this deployment.

On Feb. 19, 1966, the Edson escorted portions of the Third Marine Division to Hue from Danang, making it the first escort where a Destroyer protected truck convoys. The following year, it discharged nearly 28,000 rounds in support operations.

Recognizing the ship’s actions, the Navy awarded the Edson with the Top Gun medal. In 1970, the Edson steamed close to 50,000 nautical miles, had 130 gunfire support missions, stayed at sea for 133 out of 169 days, and awarded “E” for excellence in all departments.

The ship earned a nickname in North Vietnam when smoke from a battle blocked the ship from view, convincing the North Vietnamese that it had sunk. It re-appeared weeks later, earning the moniker 'Grey Ghost of the Vietnamese Coast.'The Edson’s most infamous event happened on May 27, 1967. While escorting the Third Marine Division, the ship took damage from the North Vietnamese and left for repairs. Through the bombardment, smoke blocked the Edson from view — the North Vietnamese did not see the ship leave and assumed it sunk. It returned six weeks later with the North Vietnamese thinking they were seeing a ghost ship, hence the nickname “Grey Ghost of the Vietnamese Coast.” A more detailed history can be read here.

Between 1977 and 1988, it served as a training ship in Newport, NJ, for commanders, gunners, and boiler engineers before being decommissioned in the Philadelphia Naval Yard in 1988.

On the Fourth of July 1989, the Edson became part of the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum Complex in New York City where it was designated a National Historic Landmark. It would spend 14 years there, and after Sept. 11, 2001, it was briefly used as a command center for the City of New York.

 “They used the ship’s mast as a radio tower because when the Trade Center went down, all communication ceased. No cell phones, nothing worked,” says Bill Randall, volunteer and six-year veteran who served on the Edson. “They had a command cell set up here. There's dust on here from the World Trade Center.”

In the early 2000s, the Intrepid Museum needed to make way for a barge carrying an SST Concorde, which is still there, and parted ways with the Edson by giving it back to the Navy as part of the ship donor program.

“Then we found out about it,adds Buda.

Originally, The Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum had its sights on the USS Charles F. Adams, a guided missile destroyer.

“The Adams Class destroyers were built in Bay City, and we wanted to keep the history of destroyer construction of Defoe, the former shipbuilding active in Bay City,” says Buda.

After sitting in a mothball fleet for years the repairs proved to be too costly.

“It would take millions and millions of dollars to get that thing even to this condition,” says Randall. “This one became available in that timeframe.”

On Aug. 7, 2012, a tugboat towed it from Philadelphia to Bay City — an almost 2,500-mile journey.

All of the museum displays are on the ship, because the museum is the ship, says Randall. “A lot of people don't realize that. They go down to the office and think that’s the museum.”

Today, almost 95% of the ship is open to the public. Self-guided and guided tours are available March through December.

“All the artifacts that we have donated to us are on display. It's a hands-on display where the people can actually feel the stuff,” says Buda. “They can get up to the bridge, you can blow the whistle, you can actually get down into the engine room and you can turn the valves.”

The ship is set up to look as it would have while on duty. “We try to keep it as original as possible,” says Randall.

The hands-on approach extends to even the books.

 “The books that we have all on display, we keep them in the open where people can thumb through and look through a lot of what they called ‘tech manuals’ that we have people can look through,” says Buda.
 
'All the artifacts that we have donated to us are on display. It's a hands-on display where the people can actually feel the stuff. They can get up to the bridge, you can blow the whistle, you can actually get down into the engine room and you can turn the valves.'

- USS Edson volunteer and U.S. Air Force veteran Michael Buda
 
Randall adds it could take up to four days for visitors to read everything on the ship.
The ship’s primary tribute, Buda says, is to the Navy and the sailors that served during the Vietnam War with artifacts from the era. Other than serving as a museum, the Edson is available to rent for events such as weddings and birthday parties.

“We've had class reunions, different functions that we've had a band concert,” says Buda. “The Marines Reserve will have a luncheon up there. We get Air Force veterans, Army, a lot of Marines, a few Coast Guard, but we get a lot of sailors from all over that just want to come just to be aboard a destroyer again because there’s a lot of destroyer sailors around.”

The Edson also welcomes paranormal investigations.

“We have a lot of people that have been here, and a lot of people that want to come here,” says Randall. “We were booked up almost every weekend this summer. We’ve had business up the ying-yang.”

Randall adds about 90% of the tourists coming in are from out of towners or out of state. “Weekends are just unbelievably busy.”

“I take people on tours through the ship, and they get a whole different idea of what it takes to do this,” says Randall. “What we do here - we do it, nobody else does it.”

This fall, the popular Edson Incident will return Sept. 17 to Oct. 30 and it promises to scare the ‘ship’ out of you, adds Buda.

The Edson can also be followed on Facebook.