NORFOLK, Va. -Marion “Turk” Turner, a retired submariner who survived three and one-half years in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp during World War II, recently passed away, following a lengthy illness. A Jong-time resident of Virginia Beach, Va., he was born in Moultrie, Ga., on April 22, 1918.
During his high school years at Moultrie High School he was affectionately dubbed by his peers as Turkey, a nickname received after he devoured some leftovers during a camping trip. The nickname remained with him, but was eventually shortened to Turk in later years. Turner enlisted in the Navy on October 12, 1939, and elected to serve on submarines as an electrician’s mate. He served onboard USS CANOPUS, the Balao-class submarine USS SEALION (SS 315), and the Porpoise-class submarine USS PERCH (SS 1 76). It was during his assignment onboard PERCH which determined his fate during World War II.
While surfaced 30 miles northwest of Soerabaja, Java on March 1, 1942, PERCH was attacked by enemy destroyers. Driven down with a string of depth charges to a depth of 135-feet, and enduring several more depth charges, Turner and the men of PERCH repaired the submarine, and they were able to resurface early the next morning. But they were once again attacked and forced to submerge. Convinced by the oil loss and the air from damaged ballast tanks, the enemy was sure PERCH was a kill, and they went hunting for other targets. This allowed PERCH to again surface and repair some damage. On a dive to test the repairs, the submarine was forced to resurface, where subsequently PERCH was engaged for the final time by two enemy cruisers and three destroyers. The Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander David A. Hurt, ordered the ship to be abandoned and the submarine was scuttled.
In later years, Turner related the following passage concerning the rescue at sea to friends Jeanine and Lorie Allen.
” … as we were given the order to ‘Abandon the Boat’ when PERCH was going down, our Captain, Lieutenant Commander David Hurt, was the last man off the conning tower. We were in the water for a while before the Japanese came by to rescue our crew. We did not know if they were going to shoot us or abandon us to the sea. Hurt was having difficulty treading water as the Japanese ship was rescuing the crew using a rickety ladder.”
The captain told Turner he “wasn’t going to make it,” and gave Turner the order, ” just leave me Turk, I no longer have the strength to go on, save yourself … leave me.”
Turner relayed to the Allens, “I wasn’t going to listen to that, so I dove down and came up right under him, and I pushed him right up the ladder with him still protesting.”
That action saved Hurt’s life. And while the entire crew of 60 officers and enlisted Sailors survived that day, six later died in Japanese Prisoner of War camps. The others were repatriated, and were able to enjoy the victory over the Japanese in World War II.
Turner was repatriated Oct. 17, 1945 and stayed in the Navy until his retirement Dec. 1, 1959, but the scars of his incarceration remained for his lifetime. He had survived cruel beatings, starvation diets, and many tropical diseases at the Prisoner of War camp on the island of Makassar Celebes.
Almost seven decades after receiving his injuries, Turner was presented the Purple Heart Medal and a Korean Service Medal by retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Fred Metz during a ceremony held Jan. 2, 2011 at King’s Grant Baptist Church in Virginia Beach.
“If you think about what he had to endure, or anyone in the Prisoner of War camps, a Purple Heart does not really signify what they had to go through,” said Metz. “But it’s one way this country honors the people who lived through those perils.
Turner was a strong-willed veteran with an equally strong conviction for his country, but he always had a kind word for all. He was particularly fond of sharing his time and sea stories with fellow veterans.
Turk showed us all courage and humility during and after facing the enonnous struggle of a POW,” said Captain Stephen T. Koehler, who pinned the medals on Turner and is currently Commanding Officer of the amphibious assault ship USS BATAAN (LHD 5), homeported in Norfolk, Va. “He gave us perspective when we thought we were having a bad day. It only takes a thought of him with his struggle over 60 years ago, and the way he handled it with a positive attitude to shed light on our current day-to-day problems.
“He became a friend and inspiration to both me and the crew of BATAAN with this positive attitude and his zest for life. He spent a lot of his time with my young Sailors telling stories and relating his time in submarines and as a POW, for which I am grateful. He was truly a great influence on BATAAN Sailors in our quest to keep BATAAN Heritage part of our ship.”
Ernest Plantz, one of Turner’s shipmates on PERCH and his cellmate while both were Prisoners of War, personalized his convictions.
“Turk was my mentor and best buddy,” said Plantz, a friend of Turner’s for 69 years and the only surviving Sailor from PERCH. “He tutored me for my seaman qualifications and my submarine qualifications. He continued being an outstanding teacher through his life, and relaying his experiences in the Navy. Turk loved people with only good words for everyone.
“His deep faith saw him through many trials, and the love of his family helped him along the way. Turk will be remembered as one of the unsung heroes of his generation who served in the Submarine Force with honor and dignity. I loved you shipmate and treasured the friendship that we shared.”
Ted Davis, a retired U.S. Navy captain and former Command-ing Officer of the Tench-class diesel submarine USS GRENADIER (SS 525) concurred with Plantz.
“There is nothing Turk wouldn’t do or has not already done for his country, his service, his friends, and his family,” said Davis, a long-time friend and member of the Hampton Roads Chapter of the U.S. Submarine Veterans, Inc. “Turk showed us the way a hero walks, softy with love in his heart. He may have spent many tours in hell, but he served God and country for life.
In addition to the Purple Heart and Korean Service Medal, Turner earned various medals and awards during his career including the Bronze Star, American Defense, American Area Corps, Asiatic-Pacific Medal, Philippines Defense Ribbon, Good Conduct Medal, Point System, World War II Victory Medal, National Defense Service Medal, and the United Nations Medal.
He was a member of the U.S. Submarine Veterans of World War II Tidewater Chapter, having served as state commander, president, and vice-president; a life member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, General MacArthur Memorial Post No. 392 in Virginia Beach; a member of Holland Club; Member Fleet Reserve Association Branch 5; and a member of American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor. Additionally, he was an active member of King’s Grant Baptist Church and the Joy Sunday School Class.
Turk’s legacy is one of success in the face of insurmountable odds,” said Paul Rice, chaplain for the United States Submarine Veterans, Inc. and friend since 1997. “His faith in God allowed him to stand up under brutal torture and still inspire his shipmates to carry on as well. Turk was one of the many men executing the Code of Conduct before it even had a name. He was instrumental in ensuring all but six of the crew of the PERCH made it home at the end of their captivity.”
Turner went on eternal patrol at the age of 92, Feb. 28, 2011. He will be cremated and his ashes will be scattered at sea.
For more information on the Submarine Force visit the Submarine Force Atlantic web site at: www.sublant.navy.mil.
Marion “Turk” Turner, who spent three and a-half years in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp during World War II, socializes at the 2010 Submarine Ball in Norfolk, Va. Turner recently passed away after a long illness. (U.S. Navy photo by MC2 Danna Morris)