A memorial service at Port Chicago this weekend is being used to publicize efforts to gather firsthand accounts from another aspect of the World War II home front era in the Bay Area.
Researchers with the Regional Oral History Office, based at UC Berkeley's Bancroft Library, are seeking interview subjects with experiences relating to Port Chicago and the disastrous 1944 explosion that killed about 320 servicemen and civilians, injured 390 more and destroyed a Victory and a Liberty ship.
Two-thirds of those who died in the disaster were African-American, accounting for more 15 percent of all black casualties during the war.
Port Chicago still resonates today because of the immediate aftermath, when 200 black sailors refused to return to work in unsafe conditions; 50 were court-martialed and convicted of mutiny, a decision that still generates sharp differences of opinion.
The Navy continues to stand by its wartime finding after a review 18 years ago and efforts to exonerate those convicted have failed.
Port Chicago in Concord is now part of the National Park System and its history is linked to that of the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond.
Like programs by the Regional Oral History Office to record the memories of wartime home front subjects and Japanese-Americans interned during the war, there is an urgency to finding Port Chicago interview subjects.
"It's important, first of all, because time is running out," researcher/interviewer Javier Arbona said. "The problem we're running into is that folks who can tell their stories are getting up there in age. They have health issues, their memories fade."
Arbona said several subjects died before an interview could be conducted.
The significance for future generations is sharing an overlooked side of major event in the Bay Area's history. Arbona cited a newspaper article of the time that described Port Chicago as the worst disaster in the Bay Area since the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906.
"It's important because it has been a recent California story," he said. "The Port Chicago story came back to attention in the last couple of decades. Before that it was an untold story."
The military installation at Port Chicago was part of a larger military base and was adjoined by the actual town of the same name, which was condemned and razed in the late 1960s.
Possible interview subjects with connections to that time and those locations should contact the Regional Oral History Office, Arbona said. "I think a lot of times people think they might not have story to tell or that their experience was insignificant compared to what happened elsewhere on the home front. They shouldn't hesitate to contact us."
People with first-person accounts of the Port Chicago disaster can contact the oral history office at firstname.lastname@example.org or call project manager David Dunham at 925-937-2290.
Learn more about the World War II American Homefront project at www.bancroft.berkeley.edu/ROHO/projects/rosie.
WEST COUNTY NOTES: It was about 18 months ago that Alfonso Garcia, of Pinole, became ill and was near death until he received a liver transplant because someone had registered as an organ donor.
Alfonso, 17, is throwing out the first ball at AT&T Park in San Francisco before the Giants-Dodgers game Wednesday as the team observes its annual Donate Life Day in support of the California Transplant Donor Network.
Garcia regularly speaks to groups of teenagers on behalf of the network about the importance of signing up as a donor. To learn more about the donor network, go to www.ctdn.org or call 888-570-9400.
The plot concerns a small political theater ensemble and whether it should, as the publicity says, "keep telling the stories they feel can change the world (and starve while telling them), or feed at the corporate trough, sell out, and be the mouthpiece for The Man?"
It should be noted that, not coincidentally, the National Endowment for the Arts has been criticized by an Arizona legislator, for its support of the troupe.
The free afternoon in Nicholl Park, 3230 Macdonald Ave., opens with a musical performance at 1:30 p.m. Details: 415-285-1717 or www.sfmt.org.
"Patrick went beyond his job description in notifying and then presenting the keys to their grateful owner," the report said. "Those of us who know Patrick are not surprised that (he) did the right thing when no one is looking; he always does."
Contact Chris Treadway at 510-262-2784 or email@example.com.