Stories of the Port Chicago 50

Port Chicago 50

Ollie Green, one of the sailors charged as one of the Port Chicago 50Ollie E. Green

In July 1944, Ollie Eaton Green was a Seaman First Class stationed at Port Chicago; he was 37 years old and a native of the Washington, D.C. area. As was the case for each of the Port Chicago 50, he testified in his own defense at the mutiny trial. (Tr. 326-348) What follows is a summary of his sworn testimony.

In the July 17 explosion, Mr. Green suffered scars on his leg, around his eye, and through his chest from flying glass in the explosion; he was hospitalized in the Mare Island Hospital to receive treatment for his injuries for at least ten days.

On July 29, Mr. Green left Mare Island Hospital and was transferred to Vallejo, where he stayed in Upper C Barracks.

On August 8, 1944, Mr. Green broke his wrist. At the mutiny trial, the doctor’s sick call note attesting to the wrist fracture was entered into evidence. The doctor’s note stated that Mr. Green was to be on the sick list. The doctor told Mr. Green that his hand would not be well for about six weeks. His arm was in a sling during the mutiny trial.

On August 9, 1944, Mr. Green remained in the barracks and did not muster with the other men in his division. He later left the barracks because the officers ordered everyone out. Mr. Green went outside and saw the other men called into ranks and addressed by Lt. Delucchi. Mr. Green heard Lt. Delucchi say the men were “letting him down,” but he did not hear any order issued by Lt. Delucchi. The men were then marched to the recreation hall where they met with three officers including Chaplain Flowers. Mr. Green testified that Chaplain Flowers asked him if he was going to work and Mr. Green told him, “no sir.” Chaplain Flowers asked about Mr. Green’s hand, and Mr. Green told him it was “not so good.” After this, Mr. Green testified, the men were marched by the shore patrol to chow and then back to the barge where they were held.

On August 11, 1944, Mr. Green and the other men were marched from the barge to the ball diamond, where they were formed into a “U” formation and addressed by Admiral Wright. Mr. Green did not describe the Admiral’s address in his testimony, but he stated that after the Admiral spoke, Lt. Delucchi then told the men that “all who are willing to obey any kind of order that I give them will get to one side.” Mr. Green testified that he moved to the side that indicated that his response was “no”.

Mr. Green testified consistently on direct and cross examination that he did not receive an order to return to the work of loading ammunition. Mr. Green testified that he did not want to go back to loading ammunition, but he also testified that if he had received an order to do so, he would have returned to that task.

Q: Did Lieutenant Delucchi say, “I order you to go load ammunition”?
A: No, sir, Lieutenant Delucchi never gave me any order.
Q: Did anybody tell you, “I order you to go load ammunition”?
A: No, sir.
(Tr. 331.)

At the end of his testimony, in response to the court’s question whether he had anything more to say, Mr. Green explained that he had “a couple of things to say, sir…The reason I was afraid to go down and load ammunition, them officers [were] racing each division to see who put on the most tonnage, and I knowed the way they was handling ammunition, it was liable to go off again…If we didn’t work fast enough at that time, they wanted to put us in the brig, and when the exec[utive officer] came down on the docks, they wanted us to slow up. That is exactly the way – put it on fast; if we didn’t put it on fast they want to put us in the brig. That is my reason for now going down there.” (Tr. 348)

Mr. Green was convicted of mutiny. He received a sentence of 15 years imprisonment. Along with the other members of the Port Chicago 50, he was incarcerated at Terminal Island near San Pedro by November 1944. His sentence was later commuted to three years.

The Task Force has not yet been able to learn very much about what happened to Mr. Green after the war ended.

Bennon Dees

At the time of the mutiny trial, Bennon Dees was a 19-year old Seaman First Class from Zion Hill, Alabama who went to school through the seventh grade.  (Tr. 407, 410.)  In the explosion, he sustained hand, leg, and back injuries.  (Tr. 406.)  He was hospitalized for four days after the explosion, according to the findings of the Navy’s Court of Inquiry.

Seaman Dees testified that he did not receive an order to load ammunition after the explosion.

Q:  Since the explosion have you been ordered to load ammunition?

A:  No, sir. (Tr. 408.)

He stated that he was afraid to load ammunition both before and after the explosion.  (Tr. 408.)

Q:  When did you make up your mind, Dees, that you did not want to handle ammunition?

A:  Well, I was really afraid to handle ammunition, I am willing to obey orders but I am afraid to handle ammunition.  (Tr. 409.)

Dispelling three lines of prosecution argument, Seaman Dees testified that he did not see or sign a list while in the barracks at Vallejo; he did not talk to anyone to convince them not to load ammunition or have anyone talk to him about not loading ammunition; and he denied that he attended any meetings among the men while on the barge at Vallejo.  (Tr. 409.)

He acknowledged that while on the barge he signed a statement relating these facts:  1) that he was afraid to load ammunition and 2) that he heard a man state that he did not want others to smoke on the barge and that all the men should obey the shore patrol.  (Tr. 410.)

He described that on August 9 he was taken to the recreational hall where he spoke to an officer he had seen before but did not know.  (Tr. 411.)

Q:  What did he say to you, Dees?

A:  Well, he asked me was I – would I obey orders and I said, “I will.”  He asked me would I – again he asked me would I – will I handle ammunition and I [said], “I am willing to obey orders but I am afraid to handle ammunition, sir.”

Q:  What happened then?

A:  Well, he said, “Well, there’s one way to say it, ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”  I said, “Well I hate to say ‘no’ because I am willing to obey orders.”  He said, “Well you’ve got to say either one of them.”  I said, “no, sir, I am afraid to handle ammunition.”  Then he sent me out to the ballfield.  (Tr. 411.)

On cross examination, the prosecution focused on a statement dated August 30, 1944, attributed to Dees.  The prosecutor asked Dees questions about whether he made certain statements quoted by the prosecutor, and each time Dees answered in the negative.

Q:  All right, do you remember talking to Ensign Walden at Shoemaker about the thirtieth of August of this year?

A:  Yes, sir, I do.

Q:  Now, at that time didn’t you make this statement, “I hear some of the boys say that the speaker at the meeting said, ‘if the boys stick together, there would be no trouble’”?

A:  No sir.

Q:  Didn’t you make that statement to the ensign?

A:  No, sir. (Tr. 412.)

Similarly, Dees denied another key statement attributed to him by the ensign.

Q:  Now I will ask you did you tell the ensign at Shoemaker on the thirtieth of August that the speaker at the meeting on the barge said that all we have to say was that we were afraid to load ammunition and if we all stick together nothing would happen?

A:  No, sir, I didn’t say that. (Tr. 412-13.)

Seaman Dees admitted that his signature appeared on the statement and that he read the statement before he signed it.  (Tr. 413.)  The statement was received into evidence..

Seaman Dees was convicted of mutiny and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, followed by a dishonorable discharge.  His sentence was later commuted to three years.

The Task Force has not yet been able to learn very much about what happened to Mr. Dees after the war ended, other than it appears he may have resided in the Chattanooga, Tennessee area at some point.

John Dunn

John H. Dunn was a 17-year old seaman second class weighing 104 pounds at the time of the mutiny trial.  He testified he was in bed at the time of the explosion, the force of which blew him back out of bed.

He testified that he was a mess cook at Port Chicago, and he did not work on the docks.

Q:  Did you ever load ammunition?

A:  No, sir.

Q:  Why not?

A:  The doctor told me I was too light for the work.  (Tr. 349.)

He described the comments by Lt. Tobin on August 9, 1944 in his testimony.

Q:  What happened after you lined up in ranks [before Lt. Tobin]?

A:  Well, Lieutenant Tobin started talking to us.  At first he said “Who are all willing to obey all orders, no matter what they are?”  Everybody fell out.  Then they started thinking he messed them up on “all orders” so they went back to him and told him that they will obey all orders, but they are scared to load ammunition.

Q:  Were you ordered to go load ammunition?

A:  No, sir.

Q:  Didn’t anybody order you to go load ammunition?

A:  No, sir.  (Tr. 350.)

Seaman Dunn further explained that Lt. Tobin would not listen to his explanation about the doctor’s statement about his ability to work on the docks.  “Well, he came to me.  He didn’t give me a chance to explain to him; he just pointed at me; didn’t give me a chance to explain why I wouldn’t work on the dock…”  (Tr. 350.)

In his testimony, Seaman Dunn repeatedly explained that he was not aware of, involved with or present for any meeting among any of the men while they were confined on the barge.

On cross examination, Seaman Dunn related that most of the men in the division said they were afraid of loading ammunition, after the July 17 explosion.  (Tr. 354.)  But he consistently testified that he did not receive an order to load ammunition and he was not aware of any order to any of the other men to load ammunition.  Nevertheless, he explained that if he had received such an order, he would likely have obeyed it.

Q:  Were you going to load ammunition?

A:  No, I was too light.

Q:  You were not going to load ammunition?

A:  If I got the order.

Q:  If you got the order, you were going to load it?

A:  Probably.  (Tr. 359.)

But Seaman Dunn vividly described the danger associated with loading ammunition at Port Chicago, likening an order to do so as an order to inflict great self-harm.

Q:  And that then the men started coming back again because – “we didn’t know which order he was trying to mess us up on,” or words to that effect, do you remember saying that?

A:  Yes.

(Objection and ruling omitted)

Q:  What did you mean by that testimony?

A:  Well, if they was to get some order to shoot themselves, I don’t believe they would do it.

Q:  Well, that’s what you were thinking about?

A:  Might as well.

Q:  You thought maybe that Lieutenant Tobin would give you an order to shoot yourself?

A:  No, not that, but handling ammunition is just as dangerous, and for me, I never worked on a dock.  (Tr. 358-59.)

Seaman Dunn’s weight was also a topic covered on cross examination:

Q:  What did you mean a minute ago when you said, “I was too light for it”?

A:  The doctor told me I was too light for the work – one hundred and four points against a thousand pound bomb.”  (Tr. 360.)

The judge advocate crossed Seaman Dunn on whether he heard the Admiral’s talk at the ball field.

Q:  Did you hear [the Admiral] say that this conduct of the men was mutiny and that they could be shot for what they had done?

A:  Yes, sir.  (Tr. 364.)

Cross examination also explored whether Seaman Dunn gave a statement after being advised of his rights.  First, Dunn acknowledged that in his statement he said he was afraid to load ammunition and that he worked in the galley.  (Tr. 363.)  Second, Dunn testified that he was not advised of his rights before making the statement.  Id.

Q:  After Lieutenant Aylward advised you of your rights, you made a statement, didn’t you?

A:  I didn’t hear nothing about the rights.

(Colloquy omitted)

Q:  Did this conversation take place on the 12th of August at Port Chicago between you and Lieutenant Aylward:  Lieutenant Aylward said to you, “Do you want to make a statement as to why you refused to work?  And didn’t you say, “I am afraid to load ammunition; I never worked on the docks before this time; I worked in the galley.  I don’t desire to make any further statements”?

(Colloquy omitted)

A:  Well, I made the statement, but Lieutenant Aylward didn’t say that to me.  (Tr. 363.)

The Naval Courts and Boards at this time provided that only voluntary confessions would be admissible and the burden of establishing voluntariness would fall on the party offering the confession.  Section 181 provided that a lack of caution or warning was not necessarily dispositive of voluntariness, but further stated: “The better course, however, where the confession is made to a superior officer, is to require proof that he understood the confession was entirely voluntary and was not influenced by promises or threats.”

Seaman Dunn was convicted of mutiny and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, followed by a dishonorable discharge, but Admiral Wright reduced his sentence to 8 years on November 15.  His sentence was later commuted to three years.

The Task Force has not yet been able to learn very much about what happened to Mr. Dunn after the war ended.


Carl Tuggle in 1944, an African American sailor who was present at the Port Chicago Disaster

Carl Tuggle

Tuggle was one of approximately 200 Black men who were ordered to continue loading munitions after the explosion. Read his obituary in the Cincinnati Enquirer.

He also participated in the Library of Congress “Stories from the Veterans History Project.” Listen to his story.