Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Military Historical Sites in Alameda, Contra Costa, and Solano Counties

Here's the latest issue of "Rick's Tips," Blue Heron's newsletter of fun and interesting things to do in San Francisco, the Bay Area, and Northern California.  The August issue covers interesting military historical sites in Alameda, Contra Costa, and Solano Counties.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial

The Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial honors the 320 men who died in the largest homefront disaster during World War II.  On July 17, 1944 two munitions ships exploded at Port Chicago (near Concord, CA) killing and injuring sailors loading the ships and other nearby naval personnel.  Many of the victims were young, African-American stevedores who received no training in the handling of munitions.

After the blast, 50 African-American sailors refused to continue loading munition ships unless they received training.  These men were court martialed in the largest mutiny trial in the history of the US Navy.  The Memorial remembers these men, whose defiance is considered one of the key events leading to President Truman's decision to desegregate the armed services.

The Memorial is one of the most difficult units of the National Park Service to visit as it is located within an active military base.  When the military permits visitors, reservations are required at least two weeks in advance.  Annually, visitors are welcome for the memorial ceremony to remember those who died at Port Chicago and those who were court martialed when they stood up for their civil rights.

On July 20, I had the opportunity to attend the remembrance of the 69th anniversary of the explosion.  A crowd of about 200 gathered to hear speakers and to view the memorial.

Remains of the Pier


The explosion at Port Chicago and the subsequent court martial must be remembered.  However,  there is not much to see at the Memorial.  There are a few plaques describing the events surrounding the explosion as well as plaques listing the names of those who died.  Perhaps when the National Park Service secures funding for a visitors center, more people will find their way to Port Chicago and learn about this tragedy.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historic Park

When we visited Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historic Park we were told that this is the longest park name in the National Park system.  It's also an unusual park in that the sites are not contiguous.  This park celebrates the work done in the United States to support the efforts of our troops overseas during World War II.  Richmond, CA was home to three large shipyards run by Henry Kaiser.  The town of Richmond grew from 20,000 to over 100,000 residents in just a few years, straining its resources immensely.

Start your visit at the Visitor Education Center to see exhibits on the shipyards, the beginnings of child care in this country, the unique contribution of Kaiser to health care, and the large numbers of women and minorities who entered the urban workforce.  During our visit, we saw two interesting films on Richmond, CA and the Home Front.  Here you can pick up maps for driving and walking tours of the park. The Visitor Education Center is open daily (except on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day) from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. at 1414 Harbor Way.

Next head to Kaiser Shipyard 3 where you can see historic buildings and tour the SS Red Oak Victory.  This ship hauled ammunition during World War II and was built at nearby Shipyard 1.  The ship is named after Red Oak, IA, the town that suffered the highest per capita loss of military personnel during the war.  The Red Oak was scheduled for demolition but was rescued by the Richmond Museum of History.  Visitors are welcome on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.  Admission costs $5 per person.

SS Red Oak Victory

Whirley Crane

Your last stop can be the Rosie the Riveter Memorial.  The design is in the shape of prefabricated parts used in the construction of Liberty and Victory Ships and is laid out to resemble a vessel under construction.  The memorial, which precedes the founding of the national park by three years, honors the women who entered the industrial workforce for the first time during World War II.

Rosie the Riveter Memorial

If you want some lunch during your visit, Assemble Restaurant is located next to the Visitors Center and has American food.  For Italian cuisine with a water view, check out Salute e Vita Ristorante near the Rosie the Riveter Memorial.

To take a private, custom tour that includes a visit to Rosie the Riveter National Historic Park, contact Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel at or (415) 337-1874.