A proud vessel that served the U.S. Navy for years is making its way from a salvage yard in Philadelphia to its new home in Bay City. The ship will be towed for about two weeks before it arrives at the Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum. There it will become a showpiece of American naval history for the public to enjoy. The U.S.S. Edson saw combat roles in Vietnam, and over the years served as a home away from home for thousands of crew members. This is the story of one of those men, Charles Struthers, who was born, raised, and lives today right here in Northern Michigan.
Ask Charles Struthers why the USS Edson holds a special place in his heart, and you get a smile, and a heartfelt answer. Struthers replies "to me being on board this ship, being my first, it really sticks in your brain, almost everything you did, everyday. That is where you grew up, you leave high school, you move out into the world, you get on board this vessel and you grow from there. As you grow this ship becomes part of you, the crew becomes a part of you."
But like turning a page in time, flipping through his scrapbooks Struthers can go right back to 1981; back to that 18 year old new recruit who saw the USS Edson for the very first time. Struthers say "you have to remember I am a young kid from a small town, so when I walked up to the pier, and I have this ship in front of me, its like holy man, look at this thing! It was very incredible seeing these big guns on the deck that are the size of three of these rooms and the barrel of the gun is probably as long as my garage. It was a massive ship."
A massive ship, with watertight integrity doors that were just a little too small for the new recruit. Struthers says "the doors stopped about 2 feet above the deck, what they call a knee knocker and those got me every time right in the shins. It took me 6 months to pick my feet up and actually go through the door properly instead of having gashes just below my knees."
Scrapped knees aside, the hundreds of tons of steel that make up the Edson over the next four years would carry Struthers from Iceland to the north to the Falklandâ??s in the south, and all the way to the western Mediterranean. Struthers says "A lot of times you walk the decks, look out over the ocean, seeing a sunset or a sunrise, you really feel how far away from home you are." But like a sunset, that feeling faded for Struthers. The ship became home, and all of that aging metal became more to Struthersâ??s than a just a vessel. He says â??people are the blood lines of a ship, the ship is the body so its all combined into one, but if you haven't gone through that you don't know what the feeling is like."
It's a bond made between mates that has lasted for more than 30 years, but an affinity for a ship that will not fade with time. He says "I look back at all the men who have been on that ship, and where that ship has been, all the people who have died on the vessel. Yeah I think about it now, I really do."
While exotic ports of call fill his navy scrapbooks, his favorite memory of the Edson came close to home and by complete surprise. Struthers remembers "on the '83 cruise I was bringing the ship into the MacArthur lock up at Sault Ste. Marie and as soon as I got the ship into the lock, one of the crew members came in the door and said "hey Struthers you got some people out here wanting to talk to you!" I said "excuse me?" "You have some people wanting to talk to you?" I said alright and I walked out to the bridge way and he pointed up to the people standing to watch and my entire family was standing there."
Struthers time on the Edson came to an end in her final years of service (1988) but this vessel's legacy can be found not only in his life, but also in the ships that would eventually replace her as well. He says "the Edson, she was a workhorse, and I think the design they put into her, made the future ships a lot better so she was a stepping stone for the bigger and better ships."
Now saved from the salvage yard, Struthers says a reunion with the Edson is in store. He says "itâ??s been a long time; I haven't seen that ship since '85. I have seen pictures of it, on TV, but physically being in front of it, to go on board and see where I worked and lived for 4 years, that's going to be very exciting."
An exciting and emotional time for Struthers and the other men who gave so much for this country on this ship; a vessel that will once again answer the call to duty. Struthers says "oh I think its fantastic especially coming down to Bay City after all these years, bringing her back into the Great Lakes to show the flag again, to teach people about the Navy, you couldn't ask for a better ship to be down there. Its great."
---Story courtesy of Marc Schollett from WPBN in Traverse City.