Port Chicago Naval Magazine
National Memorial
California
Logo
Park Photo
NPS photo



I found myself flying towards the wall. . .

—Cyril Sheppard

Cyril Sheppard was reliving the first explosion. Then the next one came right behind that. Phoom! ... Men were screaming, the lights went out and glass was flying all over the place. For Sheppard and other seamen a mile away from the munitions loading pier, the monstrous blast was traumatic enough. Loaders and others at the pier that night—320 men—lost their lives. The 1944 Port Chicago explosion was the result of unsafe loading practices. When some loaders refused to return to work under the same conditions, the U.S. Navy put them on trial for mutiny. All the munitions loaders at the base were African American, making the explosion and trial a little-known but important chapter in the history of U.S. civil rights.

THE WORK With war threatening in the Pacific, the U.S. Navy needed to boost its West Coast capacity for storing and loading munitions. Port Chicago on Suisun Bay offered a deepwater terminal, rail connections, and isolation from highly populated areas. The December 1941 Pearl Harbor attack spurred on construction, and the facility was ready to load ships a year later.

The seamen assigned as loaders were all African American, a reflection of naval policies at the time. The Navy had recently allowed African Americans to train in duties outside their traditional roles as stewards, stevedores, or cooks, but even in time of war most were assigned to these menial jobs in segregated units. At Port Chicago the black munitions loaders were supervised by white officers and black petty officers.

Already chafing under segregation, the seamen grew increasingly apprehensive about the nature of the work. Neither they nor the officers had special training in handling munitions. Worse, officers placed bets on whose team could load the most tonnage. The facility also ignored advice from a local longshoremen's union and the U.S. Coast Guard regarding safer loading practices.

THE EXPLOSION By July 1944 Port Chicago had widened its pier so two ships could be loaded. On the night of the 17th the E.A. Bryan was almost full. The Quinault Victory had arrived that day; loading would start at midnight. Sixteen rail cars lined the pier, filled with 1,000-pound bombs, depth charges, and sensitive incendiary bombs. Also at the pier were a marine guard; ships' crews; a few civilians, including the rail crew; and a Coast Guard fire boat crew.

No one is sure what happened next—only that at 10:18 pm there was a tremendous explosion, followed seconds later by a much larger one that obliterated ships, pier, cars, and humans. The blast's debris-filled cloud rose 12,000 feet into the air. Its shock wave was felt for 40 miles, and falling debris damaged most of the homes and businesses of the town of Port Chicago, over a mile away. The base's injured were taken to nearby hospitals, while other survivors were left with the grim work of recovering their crewmates' remains.

THE "MUTINY" Survivors anticipated 30 days leave—as their officers had received—and transfer to other duty, but the Navy granted neither. Instead they were sent to Mare Island Naval Shipyard and on August 9 were marched to the shipyard's munitions pier to resume loading. Initially 258 refused, saying they were afraid to load. Threatened with death by firing squad for mutiny during war, 208 yielded. They were given bad conduct discharges after serving out their terms. The 50 who persisted faced the largest mass mutiny trial in naval history.

The prosecutor's case turned on what he called "collective" acts to subvert established authority. The defense argued that while the 50 had refused to load, this was the result of each man's fear and not a conspiracy to overthrow a superior. NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall publicly asked hard questions about the base's safety practices, but the 50 were convicted and given sentences of 8 to 15 years. After the war the Navy granted clemency to the 50 and put them on ships to finish out their enlistments. Though their convictions were not overturned, their acts of civil disobedience brought to light the injustice of racial segregation in the military.

Remembering the Fallen

The 320 men who died in the Port Chicago explosion represented a cross-section of the base's workforce: 202 African American enlisted personnel working as loaders that night (15 percent of all African American deaths in World War II); nine of their officers; 64 members of the U.S. Maritime Service (crewmen on E.A. Bryan and Quinault Victory); 33 members of the U.S. Navy Armed Guard (military personnel assigned to cargo ships in wartime); three civilian Navy workers and three civilian contractors; five U.S. Coast Guard fire boat crewmen, and the Marine on guard duty that night.

Their deaths called attention to safety problems at munitions facilities. The Navy began addressing the issues of both safety and segregation in the months following the tragedy.

The Toll

U.S. NAVAL MAGAZINE

S2c James C. Akins
CM3c Clarence Allen, Jr.
Lt. (jg) Maxie L. Anderson *
S2c Leslie K. Asahe
S2c Isaiah Ash, Jr.
S1c David Bacon, Sr.
S2c Henry W. Bailey *
CM3c Leonard Baker
S2c David Barnes, Jr.
S2c Joseph Battle
S2c Raphel O. Beasom
S2c Silas Bell
Lt. Thomas L. Blackman
S2c David E. Blackwell
S2c Thimon Blaylock
S1c Johnnie C. Borders
CM1c James H. Born *
S2c L.T. Bowden *
S2c Charles L. Boyce
S2c Alvin Brewer,Jr.
S2c James Bridges
S1c Walter L. Brooks, Jr.
F1c Johnnie L. Broome
S1c Ernest L. Burnett
S1c Wilbert Calvin
S2c Lawrence L. Carlin
S2c Robert A. Carter
Lt.(jg) John B. Christenbury *
S2c Eddie L. Clark
S1c Eugene Coffee, Jr. *
F1c Bill Coleman
S2c Enos Coley *
S2c Arthur A. Connor
S2c Frank Cooley
S2c Norman H. Craig
S2c Eddie L. Cross
S2c Jessie V. Crimp
S1c Herman L. Curtis
S2c Horace Daniel, Sr.
S2c Huby Dansby
S2c Floyd M. Davis
S2c Henry J. Davis
S2c Wiliie Davis
S2c James L. Devaughn
S2c Nathaniel Dixson
S2c Rayfleld D. Doyle
S2c Herman Dunbar
S2c Arthur L. Ebenezer
F2c Dunton I. Edwards
S1c Herbert L. Edwards
S2c Junice C. Ervin
S2c Luther Eusery
S2c Ananias Evans, Sr.
S2c Horace Evans
S2c John H. Evans
S2c William L. Evans
S2c John B. Feliseret
S2c Robert L. Ferguson
CM3c Clarence S. Fields
S2C Jessie Finney
S2c Matthew Forkner, Jr.
S1c Joseph R. Francis
S2c Ford S. Franklin, Jr.
S2c Artie J. Frazier
CM1c Elmer B. Froid
S1c Gerard Gabriel *
S2c Bennie L. Gaines
S2c Elgar Gant
S1c(CH) John S. Gibson
S2c Jethero Gilbert
S1c Samuel Glenn, Jr.
S1c Lewis D. Goudblock
S2c Harry L. Graham
S1c William H. Green
S2c Ross B. Grinage
S2c A.D. Hamilton
S2c Ernest E. Hamilton
S2c Emaral Hamm
S2c George R. Hammond
S2c Jolin W. Hannan, Jr.
S2c Joe H. Hardaway
S2c John L. Harding
S2c B.C. Harris
S2c Roscoe A. Harris
S2c Phillip H. Harrison *
S2c Clifford Harvey, Jr.
S1c George W. Hayes
S2c D.C. Haywood
SLc Douglas L. Hector
SLc David L. Higginbotham
S1c Bobie R. Higgs
S1c Cluster Hill *
S2c Joseph Hiils
S2c Charles W. Hite
S2c(SO) Rudolph V. Holden

S2c Stanford Holley
MoMM3c(T) Edred L. Holmes
S2c Ernest M. Howard
S2c Frank J. Howard
S2c Earl H. Hudson *
S2c Glen Hughes *
S2c Leroy Hughes "
S2c Theodore L. Hughes
S2c Wlliam Humphrey, Jr.
S2c Ross D. Hunt *
S2c Wave Hunt
S2c Rudolph W. Hunter
CM3c(T) Leroy Ingram
S1c D.C. Jackson
S2c James Jackson
CM2c James E.M. Jackson
S1c Levi R.Jackson *
S2c Paul E. Jackson
S2c Robert A. Jackson, Jr.
CM3c Samuel Jackson, Jr.
S1c Daniel L. Jamison
S1c Willie Jennings *
S2c Clarence Johnson *
S2c Earl T. Johnson
SLc Gabe Johnson *
S1c Harold Johnson
S2c Henry L. Johnson
Lt. (jg) James B. Johnson *
S1c Milton F. Johnson *
S1c Daniel L. Jones
S1c Ivery L. Jones
S1c Henry Joseph, Jr.
S1c Samuel Kearney
S1c(SC)(B) Calvin King
S2c Clifton King
S2c Verne Land
S1c Sidney J. LaPorte, Jr.
S1c Willie Law, Jr. *
S2c Cleo Lawson
S2c Claudius W. Leslie
S2c(SO) Aaron A. Lewis
S2c T.C. Lewis
S2c Lemuel M. Long *
S2c Robert Lyons
S2c Beattie J. Makins
S1c(CM) Rossell E. Martin
S2c(CM) Alonmo Martin
S1c Daniel Massie
S1c Lawrence Mathews, Jr. *
S2c Charles A. Mayfield *
S1c Mitchell McClam
CCM(T) Clarence K. McFarland *
S1c Calvin Milton
S2c Willis Mettles *
S1c Ernest C. Miller
MoMM3c Ira Miller, Jr.
S2c Otis K. Miller *
S2c Marshall Moore, Sr.
CM2c Thomas Moore
S2c William P. Moore
Ens. Gilbert Mordoh
S2c Eddie L. Neal
S1c James H. Nixon
S2c William H. Otky, Sr.
S2c Auguster Packer
S1c(SC) William F. Paschal
S2c Robert F. Peete
S2c Lester L. Perry
S2c Joe H. Person *
S2c Alfred Phillips
CM3c Charles Pickett
S2c Houston Porter
S2c McCoy Porter
S2c David W. Potts
SM3c(T) Samuel H. Powell
CM2c Joe C. Preuitt
S2c Arthur Reid, Jr.
CM3c James E. Rhodes
S2c Clyde F. Richardson
S2c James A. Roberts
SLc Mango Roberts
MoMM3c Alphonse Robinson
S2c Fred Robinson, Jr.
S1c Eugene J. Rogers
S2c Robert Sanders *
S2c Wesley Saunders
Lt. Roland Schindler *
CM3c Carl C. Scott
Lt. Vernon C. Shamer
S1c Joseph J. Sheckles
S2c Willie Sims *
S1c Isaac E. Smith *
S1c James P. Smith
Stc Ellis Taylor
S2c Joseph M. Tolson

MA2c Maxie D. Towles
S1c(CM) Mervin L. Van Dunk
SLc Issiah Wade
S2c Charles Walker, Jr.
S2c Walter L. Walker, Jr. *
S2c Woodrow L. Walker
CM2c(T) William C. Warren *
S2c James L. Washington *
S2c Woodrow Washington, Jr.
CM3c Daniel West
Lt. (jg) Raymond R. White *
S1c Joseph B. White
S2c Arthur Whitmore
s2c Mitchell A. Williams *
S2c Maryland E. Wilson
GM3c Oliver Wilson
S2c Samuel D. Wilson
Lt. Harold A. Wood *
S2c James E. Woods *
S2c Walter E. Wright
S2c Charles E. Wyatt

SS E.A. BRYAN
U.S. NAVY ARMED GUARD

S1c Wayland E. Causey
S1c Rudy J. Cebella
S1c Robert E. Chase
S2c Claude L. Chastain
SM3c John J. Gee
Lt. (jg) Ratph B. Hartmann
S1c Clarence R. Hollandsworth
S1c Kenneth H. Muirhead
S1c Jesse W. Mulligan
S1c Lloyd J. Quick
S1c Martin J. Setzer
S1c George H. Singer
S1c Listern L. Small

U.S. MARITIME SERVICE

Elmer A. Andraschko, Cook
Albert A. Arsenian, Seaman
William C. Benhart, Oiler
Martin M. Cacic, Seaman
Ray E. Davis, Wiper
Donald L. Dennon, Wiper
Thomas E. Dorsey, Seaman
George H. Falk, Bos'n
Marcus J. Franklin, Engr.
Alfred D. Gilbert, Engr.
James R. Gilstrap, Seaman
Joseph D. Grange, Jr. Engr.
Fred Hayes, Seaman
Delbert R. Hutchinson, Fireman
Peter C.Jepsen, Ch. Engr.
Charles A. Johnson, Utilityman
Clifford R. Johnson, Utilityman
Ralph A. Lantz, Seaman
John A. Louis, Engr.
Frank C. Malizia, Carpenter
Edward Maniago, Messman
Harry E. Nathan, Seaman
Jesse Porter, Sr., Ch. Cook
Richard D. Roberson, Seaman
Aaron C. Sangster, Jr., Seaman
Ellsworth M. Shaw, Oiler
Howard A. Smith, 1st Mate
Andrew Suchan, Fireman
Robert F. Townsend, 2nd Mate
Harding E. White, Messman
George H. Witt, Utilityman

SS QUINAULT VICTORY
U.S. NAVY ARMED GUARD

GM3c Jack L. Albin
GM2c Delbert P. Bergstrom
S1c(RM) Jack P. Bowman
GM3c John G. Hall
S1c George D. Hovland
S1c Andy Morrow
GM2c William H. Mulryan
S1c Henry J. Myers
S1c Woodrow A. Riiff
S1c Jacob D. Risenhoover
S1c William R. Robinson
SLc Charles H. Rondell
S1c Jay Rose, Jr.
S1c Otis K. Ross
S1c Woodrow W. Saint
S1c Arnold T. Sanders
S1c Harold S. Sano

U.S. MARITIME SERVICE

Robert D. Bailey, Utilityman
Robert E. Bartlett, Messman
John D. Bell, Asst. Purser
Frederick E. Bentley, Seaman
Donald H. Cheney, Elect.
Hugh E. Crawford, Maint. Man
Floyd F. Crist, Seaman
Albert C. Dinde, Messman
Wallace M. Durland, Seaman
Kenneth J. Eulrick, Seaman
Burke E. Falor, Utilityman
Eugene W. Garrett, Fireman
Robert K. Henricksen, Seaman
Elis Henriksen, Engr. *
Johannes H. Justesen, Steward
Walter F. Kannberg, Engr.
Robert E. Keim, 2nd Mate
Joseph B. Koeninger, Seaman
Karl L. Mallery, Engr.
Lloyd K. McDaniel, Seaman
Kenneth M. Moen, 3rd Mate
Robert S. Morill, Oiler
Isadore E. Narinsky, Seaman
Roy L. Nelson, Carpenter
David R. Parsons, 3rd Mate
Mike Pearson, Oiler
Ellis B. Pinson, Engr.
Richard V. Potter, Fireman
Virgil R.. Sandberg, Engr.
Albert R. Scott, Ch. Mate
Lester S. Skance, Seaman
Howard W. Sullivan, Seaman
Robert J. Sullivan, Master
Glen E. Thompson, Engr. *
Louis J. Widner, Messman *
John A. Williams, Ch. Engr.

NAVY & CONTRACTOR CIVILIAN EMPLOYEES

Lawrence C. Bustrack, Macco Co. Office Manager *
Gundar Halverson, Macco Co. Timekeeper *
Raymond V. Hunnicutt, Brakeman Navy Employer
Thomas D. Hunt, Macco Co. Project Engr. *
Harry A. Middleton, Engineman, Navy Employee
Fred Zanarini, Chauffeur, Navy Employee *

OTHER MILITARY

Pvt. Elwin A. Blanke, Marine Corps *
BM1c Peter G. Broda, Coast Guard
MM1c William G. Degryce, Coast Guard
McMM3c Edward J. Portz, Coast Guard *
S1c Charles H. Riley, Coast Guard
S2c James C. Sullivan, Coast Guard *

* Identified Dead

park map
(click for larger map)

About Your Visit

The memorial is located on an active military base. Tours are by reservation; allow two weeks for your request to be processed. See park website for information on lD required for base access and firearms regulations. Service animals are welcome.

Tours are available Tuesday through Saturday at 10 am and 1:30 pm (allow 1½ hours for the tour). There is no public access on Thanksgiving, December 25, and January 1. The base may also be closed to the public due to military operations.

Source: NPS Brochure (2011)


Establishment

Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial — October 28, 2009


For More Information
Please Visit The
Link to Official NPS Website
OFFICIAL NPS
WEBSITE


Brochures ◆ Site Bulletins ◆ Trading Cards expand section

Documents

Foundation Document, Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial, California (Draft, February 2015)

Foundation Document Overview, Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial, California (Draft, February 2015)

Foundation Document Overview, Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial, California (March 2015)

Port Chicago Explosion Memorial Souvenir Edition (Date Unknown)



Handbooks ◆ Books expand section

Videos


poch/index.htm
Last Updated: 01-May-2021