Friday, Aug 1, 2008
On July 19th, the National Park Service, the Friends of Port Chicago, and the Department of Defense hosted an event to honor those who gave their lives to their country on July 17, 1944, and to commemorate the terrible disaster on the Port Chicago Naval Base during World War II. The event encouraged reflection on the memories of loss, struggle, and lessons evoked by the 1944 explosion.
Three hundred and twenty military and civilian men, over two hundred of whom were African Americans, gave their lives in service to America on July 17, 1944, when the ships they were loading with munitions mysteriously exploded. In the aftermath of the explosion, many of the servicemen refused to continue loading munitions, contending that conditions were unsafe. Ultimately, fifty of the African American sailors were convicted of treason and spent the rest of the war imprisoned. Subsequent public outcry about unfairness of the charges exposed discriminatory practices of the Navy and was ultimately one of the factors that led to the desegregation of the military in the United States.
The two-part event held on Saturday, July 19th, commenced in a building on the Naval Weapons Station provided by the 834th Transportation Battalion. The presentation began with a full Naval Sea Cadet Color Guard, and included a moving multi-media presentation by the keynote speaker, Mr. Spencer Sikes Jr., a son of one of the survivors.
The participants were then bussed to the memorial site at the waterfront. A memorial wreath was tossed into the water following a procession which included the National Park Police Mounted Patrol, GGNRA; the Naval Sea Cadets, USS Arkansas Division; Lt. Col. Russell Cole, Commander, Concord Naval Weapons Station; Martha Lee, NPS Superintendent; a bagpiper; Aaron Washington of the San Francisco Maritime and USS Pampanito; and Mr. Sikes carrying the wreath.
This is an annual memorial event. For questions about next yearâs event or tours of the Port Chicago National Memorial, please call 925-228-8860.