SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- Surface Warriors from the SDDC’s 596th Transportation Brigade took part in a Leader Professional Development session August 18 that combined a look at military history with Project Inclusion, the Army’s holistic effort to enact initiatives that promote diversity, equity and inclusion.
The LPD focused on the Port Chicago Disaster, a deadly WWII munitions explosion that occurred 76 years ago at the Port Chicago Naval Magazine in Port Chicago, California, and how the results of that incident highlighted the prejudice and injustice that minorities in America’s armed forces faced at the time.
Clarence Lahl, 596th Transportation Brigade Chief of Police, delivered the session virtually, using the book The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin as a primary reference for his presentation.
According to Sheinkin, “on July 17, 1944, a massive explosion rocked the segregated Navy base at Port Chicago, California, killing more than 300 sailors who were at the docks, critically injuring off-duty men in their bunks and shattering windows up to a mile away. On August 9th, 244 men refused to go back to work until unsafe and unfair conditions at the docks were addressed. When the dust settled, fifty were charged with mutiny, facing decades in jail and even execution.”
Port Chicago is the current site of Military Ocean Terminal Concord, where the 596th’s 834th Transportation Battalion is headquartered.
Lahl discussed the events that led up to the disastrous explosion, highlighting the inadequate safety and skills training provided to the mostly black sailors responsible for loading munitions on the ships and the strained relations that existed between them and their white senior officers.
Lahl explained that racial tensions also resulted in inequities following the incident, as all of the white officers received 30 days of survivors’ leave to visit with family, but no leave was granted for the black Sailors, hospitalized or not. Further, a Board of Inquiry cleared the white officers of any culpability or liability for the accident while at the same time implying that the black ammunition handlers “must have had something to do with it.”
SDDC Commanding General Brig. Gen. Heidi Hoyle participated in the LPD and agreed that the lessons learned from the Port Chicago Disaster are important to the command and to the Army.
“I recently visited MOTCO and the site of the Port Chicago disaster, but only understood it from the perspective of the explosive accident,” said Hoyle.
“This LPD provided the opportunity to look deeper and to better understand how we can foster a culture that promotes and practices diversity, equity and inclusion throughout the command. This is about readiness and people.”