WASHINGTON — A group of black World War II veterans on Friday remembered colleagues lost in an ammunition explosion 55 years ago and urged President Clinton to clear the names of 50 black sailors court-martialed after the tragedy.
"We're going to give those men and their survivors the due that they deserve," said John Lawrence, an aide to Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez), who is one of the lawmakers leading the pardon effort.
"Mr. President, please hear us," said veteran Yale Lewis of Washington.
The black sailors were court-martialed for mutiny for refusing to return to the loading docks after the July 1944 blast at the Port Chicago Naval Magazine near San Francisco killed 320 men--202 of them African American. More than 390 were injured. It lifted two transport ships completely out of the water, destroying them, and blew out windows 20 miles away. It sent up a plume of flame visible for 35 miles.
The World War II Black Navy Veterans of Great Lakes, which held a wreath-laying ceremony for the sailors Friday, is the latest group to call for the pardons.