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?
(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.
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”?
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.