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Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Cold War destroyer: Inside the USS Turner Joy

The destroyer USS Turner Joy was in service for 23 years, and saw extensive combat during Vietnam. Here's how she looks today.

When it comes to combat ships, aircraft carriers and battleships get all the attention. I am certainly guilty of this. I mean, I've toured battleships from the Pacific to the, well, other side of the Pacific, and aircraft carriers on both US coasts.

However, there's something to be said about destroyers. These are fast, maneuverable vessels once dedicated to escort duties, but now filling a wide variety of roles. Few are preserved as museum ships. Many don't even make it to the scrap stage, instead being used as target practice in fleet exercises.  

The USS Turner Joy is different. She's one of only a handful of destroyer museum ships, largely because of her involvement in the Vietnam War's Gulf of Tonkin Incident. She served many roles in her 23-year career, saw extensive combat in Vietnam, and today sits in Bremerton, Washington, close to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard where she was first commissioned in 1959.

Best of all, she is almost entirely accessible, making for a fascinating and extensive tour. Click through the gallery below for my photos, or read on for more about the ship.

Postwar destroyer

Construction began on the Turner Joy in late 1957, after World War II. She was part of the Forrest Sherman-class -- fast, capable vessels that at the time were the largest destroyers ever built by the US Navy. Destroyers are quick and light largely at the cost of armor. Segments of the hull aren't much thicker than the width of your finger. They became known as "tin cans."

Powered by two 35,000-horsepower steam turbines, the 4,050-ton Turner Joy had a top speed of 32 knots (about 37 mph), with a range of around 4,600 miles. Her crew consisted of 17 officers, and 260-283 enlisted men.

Built just as guided missiles were starting to enter the Navy arsenal, the Turner Joy is one of the last all-gun destroyers. Some of her sister ships were converted to carry missiles, but she was not. Instead she had three 5-inch and four 3-inch guns, along with six torpedo tubes, throughout her 23 years of service. 

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Sitting at the end of the dock in Bremerton, just a short walk from the ferry terminal, the Turner Joy looks out of place, of course, but not as much as you'd think. Destroyers are bigger than your average private yacht, but much smaller than most Navy ships. It's only slightly longer than the ferry that brought me over from Seattle, and half as wide. You board the Turner Joy at the stern, and then it's up to you to explore. And there's a lot to explore.

Even with an army (navy?) of volunteers, most museum ships have large sections closed to the public. The Turner Joy, perhaps because it's a smaller ship, is one of the most open I've toured. Nearly every cabin and compartment is accessible. In a few spots that are closed off, like the Combat Information Center, there's plexiglass so you can still see in.

The quiet of Puget Sound

The Turner Joy's life now is a quiet one, resting peacefully in the calm waters of Puget Sound. There are only two Forrest Sherman-class destroyers still around that you can tour, and only a few more museum destroyers of any kind.

Adults go aboard for $16, and the ship is open every day most of the year, but Wednesday-Sunday in the winter. Just don't get there too late in the afternoon, because they shut down and seal up promptly at closing time. I found out the hard way and had to go back the next day to get the photos I needed.

Speaking of photos, if Seattle is farther than your travel plans allow, even by train, check out the gallery above for an extensive tour from stem to stern.  

As well as covering TV and other display tech, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world including nuclear submarinesmassive aircraft carriersmedieval castlesairplane graveyards and more. 

You can follow his exploits on InstagramTwitter, and on his travel blog BaldNomad. He also wrote a bestselling sci-fi novel