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.

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