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

Record­ed August 5, 2007
MP3: Side 1 [1] | Side 2 [2]
REALAUDIO [3]

Intro­duc­tion: Revis­it­ing a sub­ject Mr. Emory has researched for years, this pro­gram sup­ple­ments Peter Vogel’s hero­ic research [4] 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 [5].) In this broad­cast, author Dean McLeod, whose book Images of Amer­i­ca: Port Chica­go [6] 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 [7].) 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 [8], 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 [5].

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 [8], as well as Peter Vogel’s mag­nif­i­cent online book [5]. One piece of crit­i­cal evi­dence not includ­ed in FTR#444 [8] 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 [9].

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 [7] These doc­u­ments are also avail­able in Dean’s forth­com­ing book Images of Amer­i­ca: Port Chica­go [6], sched­uled for pub­li­ca­tion on 9/15.