In a Dec. 27, 2009, story in USA TODAY, “Worst home-front disaster of WWII gets recognition,” William M. Welch writes about “American’s newest national park.”
America’s newest national park is largely removed from public view, just 5 acres on a remote bank of the Sacramento River on a military base in Northern California.
The powerful story it holds has gone little-noticed as well: the worst home-front disaster of World War II, when 320 men — two-thirds of them African Americans — perished in a giant munitions explosion. Fifty of the survivors were court-martialed for refusing orders to return to work.
It was a horror that helped bring an end to racial segregation of the U.S. military — a change that in turn gave impetus to the broader civil rights movement.
Now that chapter of history is getting a wider telling. President Obama has signed legislation making the Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial a full unit of the National Park System, following approval by Congress. That means federal dollars, rangers and a visitors center, as well as preservation of the historical site and ruins at Concord, Calif.
“I am so thrilled,” says the Rev. Diana McDaniel of Oakland, whose uncle was one of the sailors who survived the blast on July 17, 1944. “For me, it’s a story that shouldn’t be forgotten.”