John Henry "Dick" Turpin was born on August 20th 1876 in Long Branch, New Jersey. He was 20 when he joined the Navy on 4th November 1896. He was a "Mess Steward" aboard USS MAINE when she was sent to Havana, Cuba to protect Americans in 1898. On February 15th 1898, an explosion took place aboard USS MAINE, and according to Apprentice Ambrose Ham, who recalled that Dick Turpin was trying to in vain to save the life of Lt. F. W. Jenkins, when he was ordered by Lt. George Holman to "go below and get some cutlasses" thinking that the MAINE was being attacked by Spanish forces. Turpin, seeing that the MAINE was quickly sinking, chose to dive overboard, and soon found another man clinging to his back. He was quickly rescued safely and taken to Key West aboard the USS OLIVETTE.
On June 1st 1917 Turpin became Chief Gunners Mate aboard the USS MARBLEHEAD, until he was transferred to the Fleet Reserve on March 8th 1919 and he remained in that rank until he retired on 5th October 1925.
When Turpin was not on active duty, he was employed at the Puget Sound Navy Yard, in Bremerton, Washington as a "Master Rigger". From 1938 and throughout World War II, Turpin made "inspirational visits" to Naval Training Centers and Defense Plants, and was a "Guest of Honor" on the reviewing stand in Seattle when the first black volunteers were sworn into the Navy shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Turpin never wanted to part with the Navy, and according to one article, he requested "mobilization" at age 65 when World War II broke out. His request was denied, but Turpin "forgot his age" and managed to remain a "Reservist". He lived in Seattle later in life, and was in several parades honoring him.
Over 6 feet tall, he was an impressive-looking, popular figure, who broke color barriers both in the Navy and in Bremerton. Everybody knew him, and when kids would see him, they would swarm around him, recalls Al Colvin, former Mayor of Bremerton.
Chief John Henry "Dick" Turpin died in 1962, sadly though there are no official records of Turpin ever receiving his "Medal of Honor" Turpin was a true Navy man and a great American. When he passed away in 1962, his six pall bearers were all Chief Stewards: Allen, Grant, Webb, Davis, Webb, Alley.
John Henry “Dick” Turpin was simply known as Dick Turpin to his friend’s according to a long time neighbor that lived near him since the late-1930’s. When he visited the local Navy Ships they would “pipe him aboard” with the same respect of an Admiral. Not only was he known for his bravery on the USS MAINE and USS BENNINGTON but he also was one of the top Navy Hard-Hat Divers.
He never had the benefit of a diversity program. He received no help from affirmative action. He did it all of his own desire and volition. He did it the way it should be done - his own hard work and motivation. He overcame every obstacle.