Fallen sailors honored at site of new visitor center that will add recreational opportunities and connections to heritage for local community
CONCORD, Calif. – On Sunday, July 17, 2016, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell joined the National Park Service, East Bay Regional Park District, Friends of Port Chicago National Memorial, and families of descendants to honor those who lost their lives in the largest WWII military tragedy on the home front, as well as commemorate the anniversary of the explosion at the Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial. The site memorializes the explosion on July 17, 1944, in which 320 men, mostly African-American sailors in the U.S. Navy, were killed while loading live munitions onto the SS E. A. Bryan, and the subsequent refusal of 50 remaining sailors to resume loading vessels with weapons until workplace safety conditions were improved.
“Port Chicago tells a critical story in our Nation’s history and underscores the cost of war, marking the sacrifice these sailors made on behalf of a grateful country,” said Secretary Jewell. “The Port Chicago explosion, the mutiny trial, and the response from African-American communities to these events changed America by exposing the shameful injustices of racism plaguing society. The new visitor center will ensure the National Park Service is able to tell this important story for future generations.”
The event took place at the future site of a new visitor center for the memorial, and the planned Concord Hills Regional Park. Prior to the ceremony, National Park Service and East Bay Regional Park District staff led Jewell on a tour of the former Concord Naval Weapons Station and regional park, and discussed how the National Park Service and the East Bay Regional Park District are partnering with the Army, Navy and the cities of Concord and Pittsburg to increase opportunities for urban communities to make connections to America’s public lands.
“Port Chicago is a testament to the importance of partnerships. The Friends of Port Chicago National Memorial were instrumental in designating this memorial and remain a critical partner to the National Park Service today,” said Tom Leatherman, superintendent of Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial. “The partnerships we have formed, and will form moving forward, allow us to increase recreational opportunities right in this community’s own backyard, and become a connection to a special piece of history just minutes from two metropolitan areas.”
The memorial tells the story of the night of July 17, 1944, when residents in the San Francisco area were jolted awake by a massive explosion that lit up the sky. At Port Chicago Naval Magazine, 40 miles east of San Francisco, 320 men were instantly killed when the munition ships they were loading with ammunition and bombs for the Pacific Rim mysteriously blew up. The blast was so strong that it registered on the Richter scale. Everyone within 1,000 feet of the loading dock perished; sailors, Marines, Navy Armed Guard, Coast Guardsmen, Merchant Marines, and working civilians. Over 200 of the deaths were young African-American enlisted sailors working for a segregated military. The explosion and its aftermath led to the largest naval mutiny trial, and was one of the catalysts to persuade the U.S. Armed Services to desegregate following the war.
At Sunday's event, the Friends of Port Chicago National Memorial presented EBRPD Principal Planner Brian Holt with the 2016 Friends of Port Chicago Commemorative Hero Award “for his extraordinary vision, patience and determination leading the collaborative effort to establish a new regional park and visitor center for the Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial."
Above photo, left to right: Secretary Jewell, EBRPD Senior Planner Brian Holt, EBRPD General Manager Robert E. Doyle
Photo above, Secretary Jewell with National Park Service's oldest active ranger, Betty Reid Soskin.
Military and civilian guests at the event.
Left to right, Tom Leatherman, Superintendent of four East Bay National Park Service sites, with Secretary Jewell and Robert E.