I work here and it is truly historic and something special to see every day. I thank them for their courage and selfless service
Ranger Stephanie is astounding at keeping the memory of the soldiers who died and survived the disaster and aftermath. I was stunned by the information she shared. I highly recommend her tour.
I give this location 5 stars because of its significance and the team work between federal, state, and local conservation. This is a very cool memorial, and I would recommend that if you are in the area during the memorial service you attend.
I had no idea about the history before the memorial.
Just took the Port Chicago Tour with Ranger Stephanie Meckler and was deeply touched by the whole experience. Stephanie is clearly extremely passionate about getting this shocking story out of deep seated racism that I had never even heard about before. The movie at beginning was a good introduction to the event and the bus tour to the actual site of the explosion along with Stephanie’s knowledgable commentary was both informative and incredibly eerie. This tour impacted me deeply and will cause me to tell the story to others. Come on this tour – you won’t be disappointed!
On this National Day honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, perhaps a visit to the Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial would be a suitable observance.
Last Friday, I arrived at the main gate of the of Military Ocean Terminal Concord (MOTCO), formally known as the Concord Naval Weapons Station (CNWS), to await a National Park Service (NPS) Ranger who would be leading the tour. MOTCO is commanded by the U.S. Army Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC) and can be reached by taking the Port Chicago Highway North and almost to the end. The Memorial itself is located within the Tidal area of this ~7500 acre and still “”active”” Army base. The remaining ~5000 acres of the former CNWS is known as the Inland area and is in the process of being handed over to the City of Concord for future development.
From start to finish, the tour of this newest National Park (#392) takes about 90 minutes and is well worth your time. The Site is open to the public by reservation only and made at least 2 weeks in advance. Military clearance is also required and no visits are allowed while military ships are docked and are being loaded. My host Ranger was great and told me all sorts of things I didn’t know. He also helped me through the various photo restrictions that you might expect on a military base. After all, I wasn’t particularly interested in finding myself on the wrong side of an Army rule.
The Port Chicago disaster was a deadly munitions explosion that occurred on July 17, 1944, at the Port Chicago Naval Magazine. Munitions detonated while being loaded onto a cargo vessel bound for the Pacific Theater of Operations, killing 320 sailors and civilians and injuring more. Most of the dead and injured were enlisted black sailors and accounted for ~15% of all African-American deaths during WWII.
A month later, continuing unsafe conditions inspired hundreds of servicemen to refuse to load munitions, an act known as the Port Chicago Mutiny. Fifty men, called the Port Chicago 50, were convicted of mutiny and sentenced to long prison terms. Thurgood Marshall attended some of the proceedings and later drew national attention to the plight of these men. Most were released soon after. The trial itself raised lots of questions regarding fairness, legality, and racism. It also led the Navy to be the first branch of the Military to initiate the desegregation of its forces, beginning around February 1946.
It’s a whole big, empty, lonely, and empty world on the other side of these Army gates. The Tidal area is stunning in its beauty and old military history, including abandoned barracks, an intact railroad observation tower, rail-side loading bunkers, the former Port Chicago Town Site, and storage buildings (and contents) that time has probably forgotten. Remember the last scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark?
The base appears to be minimally staffed and includes at least a newish looking administration building, 1 fire company, security (of course), occasionally used loading dock facilities, rail switcher engines and lots of unused track, and various maintenance-related buildings. Being able to experience all this (in addition to the Memorial) from the comfort of a modern NPS van and a very knowledgeable and friendly Park Ranger was almost worth the free cost of admission alone.
The Memorial itself is located along the water and at the remains of the dock where the Point Chicago Disaster occurred. The center of the Memorial consists of a simple plaza with the individual victims etched on stone tablets. There are also information boards, a pulverized metal example of the explosion, a dummy ordinance display, and a place to site and contemplate the explosion, along with the abysmal safety precautions and racial segregation practiced during that time. This dignified design is certainly an appropriate recognition for the American sailors who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country that day.