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New national park created

Post by Jeff Mayor / The News Tribune on Oct. 28, 2009 at 3:35 pm with No Comments »
October 28, 2009 3:36 pm

Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial in Concord, Calif., has become the newest unit of the National Park Service.

With President Obama’s signing of the Defense Authorization Act, Port Chicago today became the 392nd unit of the park system.

Here is the rest of the news release:

“The addition of Port Chicago demonstrates a commitment to make America’s best idea even better – more relevant to Americans, more expressive of our nation’s history, and more representative of our diversity,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis.

On July 17, 1944, crews at the magazine in the San Francisco Bay area were
loading two Pacific-bound naval vessels with active munitions when the
explosives ignited in a terrific series of blasts. Felt throughout the
area, the explosions broke windows as far away as San Francisco, hurled
debris in the air, obliterated both ships, and killed everyone at the
waterfront. To this day, because of the tragedy, ignition sources for
bombs and guns are loaded separately on carriers.

The disaster caused the greatest loss of life on the home front during
World War II: 320 men died and almost 400 were injured. Of the
320 killed, 202 were African Americans.

In the nation’s then-segregated military, enlisted and drafted African
Americans could work in kitchens, cooking meals for fellow servicemen, or
as stevedores, loading and unloading ships. The stevedores at Port Chicago
lacked training and thought they were handling inactive munitions. In
reality, they were working at top speed to load bombs equipped with
warheads.

After the explosion, African American survivors were sent to a nearby base
to resume loading ships for the war effort. Many refused to continue their
work without safety training, and the U.S. Navy charged 50 of these men
with “conspiring to make mutiny.” They were tried, convicted and
imprisoned. After the war, they were released, granted clemency, allowed
to complete their military service and given honorable discharges. Only
one was ever pardoned.

Thurgood Marshall, chief consul for the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People, attended the trial and took advantage of the occasion it presented to speak with journalists several times about racial discrimination in the armed forces. The Navy began to
integrate its units in June 1945. Desegregation of the entire U.S.
military came in 1948.

Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial reminds Americans that our
history includes both opposition to injustice – opposition seen here in the
actions of Thurgood Marshall – and the tolerance of injustice in such forms
as segregation. The story of Port Chicago resonates with any group whose
members have been treated differently from other citizens of their country.
The story also raises questions – who in our world is treated as being of
lesser worth? who is denied opportunities? – and motivates us to strive for
the equality of all.

“We’re honored to provide educational opportunities and preservation at
Port Chicago,” Jarvis said. “We have a chance, as the National Park
Service heads to its centennial in 2016, to reach out to Americans with
places that hold meaning for them and make all of us culturally aware.
Port Chicago is one of those places. We have worked to realize the dream
of including it within the National Park System, and we thank
Rep. George Miller and Sen. Barbara Boxer for their vision in
sponsoring this legislation.”

The Defense Authorization Act calls for the transfer to the National Park
Service of the five acres around the site of the 1944 explosion; for the
National Park Service and the military to coordinate public access through
an active military base; and for the establishment of a visitor orientation
facility with curatorial storage in concert with the City of Concord and
the East Bay Regional Parks District. The act raises Port Chicago from its
previous designation as an affiliated area – a place whose national
importance is recognized but where no federal money is spent on education, historic preservation or efforts to increase public awareness of the site’s significance.

“We are committed, along with our partners – the Army, the Friends of Port
Chicago, the City of Concord, and the East Bay Regional Park District – to
preserving this site, which has such a rich history,” said Martha Lee,
superintendent of this new site and of Rosie the Riveter World War II Home
Front National Historical Park, John Muir National Historic Site and
Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site.

Currently, the ocean-side memorial features bunkers, boxcars, and remnants of piers, as well as interpretive signage and a granite monument bearing the names of those who died. Reservations for visiting Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial can be made by calling 925-228-8860. Visitors should call at least two weeks in advance. They need military clearance as well as reservations. No visits occur when the docking and loading of military ships are planned.

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