On July 17, 1944, when the war in the Pacific was raging, 320 sailors and civilians died instantly and 390 were injured at a naval base north of San Francisco when 5,000 tons of munitions–including 1,000-pound aerial bombs, 40 mm artillery shells, incendiary and fragmentation bombs, and anti-submarine depth charges–exploded while being loaded onto transport ships.

The blast registered 3.4 on the Richter scale and could be felt 450 miles away. The explosion was the worst stateside disaster of World War II.

Most of the dead and wounded sailors were African-American enlisted men. They accounted for 15 percent of all African-American naval casualties during the war.


by Paul Breidenbach, pbreidenbach.c4ad@gmail.com

History buffs and people of a certain age will remember “freedom from want,” one of the Four Freedoms proposed by Franklin Roosevelt in his State of the Union message in January 1941, just after his second re-election and about a year before the US entered World War II.

Four FreedomsThe speech was a plea for continued US aid to England, the last major power left resisting the Nazi war machine.  Democracy would not be safe anywhere if all of Europe became fascist, FDR argued.  And why was democracy worth fighting for?  Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear, was his answer.

The freedoms of expression and worship are in the Bill of Rights. The freedoms from fear and want were derided by conservatives as “New Deal Freedoms,” not “American Freedoms.”