Spitfire List Web site and blog of anti-fascist researcher and radio personality Dave Emory.

For The Record  

FTR #605 Interview with Dean McLeod and Peter Vogel about Port Chicago

Recorded August 5, 2007
MP3: Side 1 | Side 2

Introduction: Revisiting a subject Mr. Emory has researched for years, this program supplements Peter Vogel’s heroic research on the Port Chicago explosion of July 17th of 1944. For decades, Peter has researched that event, developing a compelling body of evidence that the explosion was actually the test of an early atomic bomb—the Mark II. (Peter’s research is available in an online book: The Last Wave from Port Chicago.) In this broadcast, author Dean McLeod, whose book Images of America: Port Chicago is due for release on 9/15/2007, joins him. (An advance look at the contents of his book, including some very important documents that complement and reinforce Peter’s work on the explosion, are available on DEAN’S WEBSITE.) After a synopsis of the Port Chicago explosion, investigation and mutiny, Dean summarizes the history of the town of Port Chicago, including the fact that the town was relocated in its entirety during the Vietnam War, in order (ostensibly) to safeguard the residents in the event of a future explosion like the one at Port Chicago. Dean notes that, during the Cold War, Port Chicago became a major transshipment point for nuclear weapons bound for the Pacific theater. The second half of the program summarizes Peter’s investigation into the explosion itself and the evidence that the blast was a test of an atomic bomb. Dean presents documents that he has uncovered which strongly reinforce Peter’s argument.

Program Highlights Include: The negative reactions of Edward Teller (father of the H-bomb) and Donald Kerr (director of Los Alamos National Laboratory) to Peter’s inquiries about Port Chicago; the tremendous interest of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in this (supposedly conventional) explosion; the background of Captain William Parsons (the point man for the Los Alamos research on Port Chicago); Parsons’ role as bombing officer aboard the Enola Gay—the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima; the characteristics of the explosion that pinpoint it as being a nuclear fission blast; an August, 1944 memorandum congratulating participants in the investigation for advancing a “highly classified and urgent project.” It is difficult to imagine that the investigation of the explosion of an ammunition ship would be considered “highly classified and urgent!”

1. The broadcast begins with a synoptic overview of the Port Chicago explosion as an historical event—in particular as a watermark in the struggle of African-Americans for civil rights. On the evening of July 17th, 1944 the ammunition ship U.S.S. E.A. Bryan exploded at Port Chicago, completely demolishing the ship, much of the adjacent port facilities and sinking and rending apart the U.S.S. Quinalt Victory, which was anchored some distance away. (Port Chicago is part of the Concord Naval Weapons facility on Suisun Bay—an inland section of San Francisco Bay.) African-American sailors ordered to resume ammunition-loading duties after the explosion mutinied, refusing the order on the grounds that the working conditions were unsafe. (African-American sailors handled much of the dangerous duty of loading ammunition bound for the war in the Pacific.) In a legal proceeding in which they were represented by future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the sailors were convicted of mutiny. Eventually, those convictions were reversed in recognition of the excessive, grinding conditions in which they had been ordered to work. The mutiny, conviction and reversal of the conviction in recognition of the unfair working conditions in which the mutineers had been obliged to work have made the event a landmark in the struggle for African-American civil rights. As discussed in—among other programs—FTR#444, information surfaced decades after the event indicating that the Port Chicago explosion was a test of an early atomic weapon—the Mark II. For a more detailed analysis of the explosion itself than can be presented here, see the description for that program and Peter Vogel’s online book The Last Wave from Port Chicago.

2. Much of the first side of the program features author Dean McLeod’s discussion of the history of Port Chicago. A major transshipment point for munitions to be used in the Pacific, the Port Chicago facility became, in time, one of the most important shipping facilities for nuclear weapons during the Cold War. Before discussing the eminent domain relocation of all of the town’s inhabitants during the Vietnam War, Mr. McLeod chronicles the history of the tiny town, beginning with its origins as a logging town in 1908. [Many Bay Area towns sprang up at this time, in order to harvest the plentiful redwood trees for the rebuilding of San Francisco and environs after the earthquake of 1906.] An important junction for both rail and maritime traffic, the town was named for the metropolis of the Midway with a view to the functional similarity between the two towns.

3. In 1968, all of the town’s residents were relocated by the government, which had appropriated all of the town’s territory under the principle of eminent domain. Using the rationale that the relocation was necessary to ensure the safety of Port Chicago’s citizens in the event of a nuclear accident, all of them were obliged to relocate. [The town had a population of about 3,500 at its peak—considerably fewer at the time that the town was relocated.]

4. One of the discoveries that impelled Peter Vogel on his path of discovery leading to the real cause of the explosion was his discovery of a film, purporting to be a simulation of the Port Chicago explosion. This film and the devastation produced by the Port Chicago explosion were used to support the government’s argument in favor of the relocation of the town’s residents.

5. The second side of the broadcast consists almost entirely of discussion of the Mark II, the early atomic weapon that was tested at Port Chicago. For substantive, detailed discussion of the Mark II and the indications that the Port Chicago explosion was a test, see the description for FTR#444, as well as Peter Vogel’s magnificent online book. One piece of critical evidence not included in FTR#444 is the fact that subsequent research has turned up higher-than-expected radiation levels in areas adjacent to the blast. NOTE THAT SOMEONE SKEPTICAL OF PETER VOGEL’S WORKING HYPOTHESIS MADE THIS DISCOVERY!! The information about the elevated radiation levels at Port Chicago is available in FTR#472.

6. After Peter Vogel excerpts some compelling documents indicating that the Port Chicago explosion was indeed a test of the Mark II atomic device, Dean McLeod excerpted some documents available in his book and on his website that complement Peter Vogel’s original research in an effective and compelling way. After enumerating the many high-ranking naval officers and Manhattan Project notables involved with the investigation of the Port Chicago explosion, Dean notes a memorandum congratulating participants in the investigation for advancing a “highly classified and urgent project.” It is difficult to imagine that the investigation of the explosion of an ammunition ship would be considered a “highly classified and urgent project.” BE SURE TO CHECK OUT THESE DOCUMENTS, AVAILABLE ON DEAN’S WEBSITE These documents are also available in Dean’s forthcoming book Images of America: Port Chicago, scheduled for publication on 9/15.


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