Jack P. Crittenden

Seaman Second Class Crittenden was 19 years old when he testified in his own defense in the Mutiny Trial on September 29, 1944.

He described that after the explosion he was transferred to Camp Stoneman, then Camp Shoemaker, and then Vallejo, where he was stationed as of August 9, 1944.  As he and the other men got off the buses at Vallejo, Lieutenant Tobin was waiting to address them.  (Tr. 486.)

He testified that he was afraid to handle ammunition, and when asked why, he stated, “Because I was at Port Chicago at the time of the explosion, sir.”  (Tr. 487.)  Nevertheless, he testified, he did not receive an order to load ammunition after the explosion.

He was then asked about Lt. Tobin’s remarks to the men on August 9.  Seaman Crittenden testified that Tobin stated, “and he [said], ‘Who is all willing to obey all orders to step on this side and the others, on the other side.’” (Tr. 487.)  After the men “started scattering out” as Crittenden testified, Tobin had them line up in their sections.  Then Tobin began to address the sections about their willingness to obey his orders.  Crittenden testified, “When he go to me he asked me was I willing to obey or disobey, and I told him that it wasn’t that I wanted to disobey orders, I was afraid of ammunition.”  (Tr. 488.)  Tobin then ordered Crittenden to give his name to Lieutenant Clement, which he did.

Q:  Now then, did Lieutenant Tobin while he was talking with you say, “I order you to go load ammunition?”
A:  No, sir. (Tr. 488.)

Crittenden was asked if he saw other men give their names to Clement, and whether he saw any of them cheering or back-slapping, to which he testified in the negative.  He was asked whether anyone tried to convince him not to go to work loading ammunition at Port Chicago or elsewhere, and he testified that it did not happen.  (Tr. 488.)  He gave the same testimony when asked if he tried to convince anyone not to load ammunition.  (Tr. 489.)  He explained that he did not sign a list indicating he did not want to load ammunition, nor did he attend a meeting of the men on the barge, although he was told there was in fact a meeting.  (Tr. 489.)

Regarding August 11, Seaman Crittenden testified that after the Admiral addressed the men, he took steps to let Tobin know his intention to load ammunition.

Q:  You mean after the Admiral’s talk, you gave Lieutenant Tobin your name?
A:  Yes, sir.

Q:  Indicating your willingness to work?
A:  Yes, sir.

Q:  Indicating your willingness to load ammunition?
A:  Yes, sir.

Q:  Were you afraid of ammunition?
A:  Yes, sir, I am afraid of it.  (Tr. 489.)

Seaman Crittenden was later asked if he would have loaded ammunition the next day, and he testified, “I would have tried, sir.”  (Tr. 492.)

After he gave his name to Tobin, Seaman Crittenden along with the other men were marched back to the barge to spend the night with other men willing to load ammunition.  (Tr. 490.)

Seaman Crittenden testified that he was not informed that he would load ammunition the next day – August 12.  That morning, he left the barge for the canteen, where he was having a shake when his division leader told him they were to muster in fifteen minutes.  Crittenden finished his shake and returned to the barge where he was changing his clothes when Tobin located him and they had this exchange:

“I ran upstairs to change my clothes and Lieutenant Tobin came up and he asked me, ‘Crittenden,’ I said, ‘yes, sir,’ he said, ‘what are you doing?’ and I say – I told him I was changing my clothes, I didn’t know when the division was going to work.  He told me he wasn’t going to tolerate no nonsense….”  Tobin took him to the Administration Building and told the shore patrol to go with Crittenden to get his gear and come back, and from there Crittenden went to the brig.  (Tr. 490.)

Q:  Did Mr. Tobin when he saw you on the barge, did he say, “I order you to go load ammunition?”
A:  No, sir, he didn’t.

Q:  Did he say anything to you about loading ammunition then?
A:  No, sir. (Tr. 491.)

At the time, Crittenden thought Tobin was taking him over to load ammunition, not to be taken to the brig.  (Tr. 491.)

Seaman Crittenden also testified about two statements he signed.

Q:  Now, in making your first statement, tell the court what happened?
A:  Well, the guard carried me up to the Administration Building, so when I got in there the ensign asked me, he say, “You Crittenden?” I say, “yes sir.”  So he told me, “I am going to help you, Crittenden, now you tell me all you know.”  I say, “yes, sir.” So he started asking me a lot of questions, I didn’t know the answers, so he told me I was looking down the gun barrel, it wasn’t him, and the best thing for me to do was tell him what I knew, that he was there to help me. (Tr. 491.)

Seaman Crittenden explained to the guard and another lieutenant who came over to write down his statement, “I didn’t want to go load ammunition because I was afraid.”  (Tr. 492.)  Crittenden saw that his statements were being written down as he continued to talk, but he told the lieutenant that his words were not being used.

Q: Was he writing exactly what you said?
A. Not exactly, sir, because I was looking — 1 was telling him, “Not like that, like the way I said it.”

Q:  But he put it down just like you said?
A:  I had to tell him about three or four times he wasn’t putting it down the way I was saying it.

Q:  What was that?
A:  He wasn’t using the words 1 were using; he was changing it, sir.

Q:  Did you sign that statement?
A:  Yes, sir,

Q:  Did you read it?
A:  I glanced over it; he told me there was two copies, so I read the first one; it wasn’t exactly like I said it, but he told me it didn’t matter.

Q:  Did he say why it didn’t matter?
A:  No, sir, he didn’t; the other one he told me it was just like that one, I might as well sign it.  So I signed it too. (492.)

On cross examination, Seaman Crittenden confirmed that he had been willing to load ammunition as of the August 11 talk by the Admiral and thereafter.

Q:  Now, I will ask you if, on the seventeenth of August, six days after the Admiral’s talk, you made this statement to Lieutenant Rodriguez: “The reason I wouldn’t go to work was because I was afraid of ammunition. I tried to go, but my conscience wouldn’t let me.  I tried to face it.”  Did you make that statement?
A:  No sir.

Q: Did you make any part of it?
A:  Yes, sir.

Q:  What part of it did you make?
A:  I said, “The reason I didn’t want to go to work was because I was afraid of ammunition. I tried to face it, but I couldn’t.”

Q:  Then you did refuse to go to work?
A: No, sir.

Q: You have just admitted that you said, “I tried to face it, but I couldn’t.”  What did you mean by that?
A:  I didn’t — I meant to go freely and willingly; I was going, but I was afraid to.

Q:  Well, if you were willing to go to work, why didn’t you go to work?
A:  The lieutenant put me in the brig, sir. (Tr. 495.)

Seaman Crittenden later described specific statements attributed to him in the written statements prepared by Navy personnel that he did not utter, including:

  • “I spoke to Fleece, David Williams, Prince Gordon and others I don’t remember about the fact that I was afraid to load ammunition”
  • “I gave him my name and was trying to go back to work, but when I was ordered by Lieutenant Tobin to fall out for work I could not carry out the order”
  • “Suber, Fleece, and myself went to the brig because we did not carry out the order”
  • “Lieutenant Tobin told me that I would have to obey or disobey. I then walked over to the side of the men who were going to disobey”
  • “While at the brig I heard a man named Knox say that he would load ammunition any place except Port Chicago or Vallejo” (Tr. 502.)

The court sustained the defense objection to the admission of the written statements into evidence. (Tr. 503.)

On cross examination, Seaman Crittenden also described the circumstances of his being in the canteen on August 12.  He did not know his group was assigned to go to work that day.  There were no guards on the pier and no one told him and the other men that they could not leave the barge that morning.  He and others went to the canteen because they were free at the time.  When asked, Seaman Crittenden denied that he had reneged on this pledge to return to work.  (Tr. 505.)

On redirect, the defense attorney elicited testimony from Seaman Crittenden that he did not speak these words, which appeared at the end of the typewritten version of his statement, “I have read and signed this statement.  It was made freely and voluntarily with (sic) any threats or promises of any kind, having been made to me.”  (Tr. 506.)

Seaman Crittenden was convicted of mutiny and received a sentence of 15 years.  By November 1944, his sentence was reduced to 12 years.  It appears he was released from prison in January 1946.



According to an obituary published in the Montgomery Advertiser, Mr. Crittenden died on New Year’s Day, 2017 at the age of 92.  He was drafted in 1944 before he completed high school.  Port Chicago was his first assignment.  After his sentence was commuted, Mr. Crittenden continued to serve in the Navy.  He was sent to the Phillippine Islands where he loaded ammunition and learned other seaman duties.  After the war, Mr. Crittenden returned to Alabama, where he graduated from Alabama State University with a degree in social studies.  He taught history in Lowndes County.  Later, he served as the director of the governor’s office for former Alabama Governor Guy Hunt.  Mr. Crittenden did not tell his family about his experience at Port Chicago for over 25 years.  He was married for over 60 years.  His son Hiram recalled his father’s character, “I’ll never forget the principles, faith and values that he lived by.  Honesty, integrity, truthfulness, dependability, and the reliability of your word.”