Real Names: Freddie Meeks, Jack Crittenden, Joseph Small, other names unrevealed
Date: July 17, 1944
Location: Port Chicago, California
Details: During World War II, more than one million African-Americans served in the then-segregated military. In the Navy, they were usually given the messiest or most dangerous jobs. This was especially true for the African-American sailors at Port Chicago Naval Base, near San Francisco. They had the had the risky job of handling bombs and ammunition, despite the fact that they had no specialized training. Their supervisors often placed bets on who could unload a ship the fastest. Shockingly, safety precautions were ignored because winning the bets was "top priority".
On July 17, 1944, there was a massive explosion over two transport vessels loading ammunition at the base. The blast destroyed everything in a one mile radius including both ships, the pier and dock. 320 men on base were killed, with nearly 400 more injured. Many of these men were African-Americans. This incident almost completely destroyed Port Chicago, making it the worst home-front military disaster of World War II. The exact cause of the explosion was never officially determined.
After the accident, many of the surviving sailors were transferred to Mare Island Shipyard. However, when the order was given to go back to the loading dock, a group of surviving enlistees stopped in their tracks. They refused to work loading munitions unless the safety of their working conditions could be promised.
The Navy court-martialled fifty of these men; they were charged with conspiracy to commit mutiny during wartime. Lt. Ernest Delucchi, who was in charge of the men, testified at trial. He stated that they had followed all of his orders, except to load ammunition. During the trial, the defense tried to introduce evidence that those in charge did not care about the safety of the men. One of the sailors was allowed to testify about the betting at the end of the trial.
Despite this, the men were found guilty of conspiracy to commit mutiny. The Navy dishonorably discharged many of them, placing them in prison for a 15 year sentence. After the war was over, President Truman commuted their sentences, but many of those men want their names cleared for not wanting to work under dangerous circumstances. These men served their country with pride and honor during World War II, and deserve to be recognized for their contributions.
Extra Notes: This segment originally aired on September 18, 1992 on the series premiere of Final Appeal: From the Files of Unsolved Mysteries.
Results: Solved. As stated above, the cause of the explosion was never determined; the widespread belief that it was an accident caused by mishandling of munition is based on popular speculation and overlooks official conclusions by the Court of Inquiry that investigated the circumstances surrounding the tragedy.
In the case of the Port Chicago 50, Freddie Meeks received a presidential pardon in December 1999. However, the others were not pardoned because they had all either died since then or had not taken part in the pardon process. Freddie Meeks died in 2003.
- Port Chicago Mutiny Website
- The Port Chicago disaster on Wikipedia
- Clinton Pardons Wartime 'Mutineer'
- Freddie Meeks, 83, Ex-Sailor Who Was Pardoned, Dies
- Port Chicago Disaster Stuns the Nation, 70 Years Ago
- Freddie Meeks at Find a Grave