Jack Crittenden | Interview 1 | December 13, 1977

Oral History Center, UC Berkeley

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0:03 - Introduction to the Navy: first assignment, locations, and command

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Keywords: 1943; boot camp; company commander; draft; expectations; Lieutenant Tobin; Navy; Port Chicago Naval Magazine; racial composition; Stockton, California; training

Subjects: Community and Identity Port Chicago World War II

7:48 - Details of dock work

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Keywords: ammunition; careless; competition; desensitized; divisions; expectations; officers; rotating shifts; safety procedures; stevedore; work pace

Subjects: Community and Identity Port Chicago World War II

15:25 - Structure of the units / Impact of Jim Crow culture

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Keywords: chain of command; leadership style; motivation; Naval rating; oration; segregation; skilled work

Subjects: Community and Identity Port Chicago World War II

20:37 - Schedule of advancement / Interaction with superiors

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Keywords: advancement goals; chain of command; leadership style; Naval rating; table of organization and equipment; TO&E

Subjects: Community and Identity Port Chicago World War II

25:13 - Naval culture, structure, and chain of command

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Keywords: chain of command; demotion; entitlement; military culture; Naval culture; non-commissioned officers

Subjects: Community and Identity Port Chicago World War II

31:09 - Details of the night of the explosion

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Keywords: casualties; dock schedule; explosion; guard duty; personal injury; wreckage

Subjects: Community and Identity Port Chicago World War II

38:51 - Immediately and days after the explosion

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Keywords: carnage; guard duty; Mare Island Naval Shipyard; military leave & liberty; psychological trauma

Subjects: Community and Identity Port Chicago World War II

43:51 - Process of returning to work or being taken into custody

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Keywords: coercion; death threats; fear; Marine guards; misrepresentation; orders; reports

Subjects: Community and Identity Port Chicago World War II

48:58 - Winnowing out the 50 objectors / Being taken into detention

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Keywords: AWOL; barge; barge meeting; Bennon Dees; conspiracy; prisoner abuse; stockade; work detail; Yerba Buena Island, Naval Training Station

Subjects: Community and Identity Port Chicago World War II

54:56 - Trial preparation / Interview in custody

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Keywords: barge meeting; Camp Shoemaker; court martial; interrogation; lawyer

Subjects: Community and Identity Port Chicago World War II

61:17 - Creating a statement for court

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Keywords: barge speech; coercion; court proceedings; mutiny charge; prisoner abuse; statement

Subjects: Community and Identity Port Chicago World War II

68:02 - Memories of the trial, appeal, and prison release

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Keywords: brig; Federal Correctional Institution, Terminal Island; NAACP; prison release; San Pedro, Los Angeles; Thurgood Marshall; trial

Subjects: Community and Identity Port Chicago World War II

72:08 - Navy life after release from prison

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Keywords: Kenneth C. Dixon; Navy; post release; ranks; sea duty; work detail

Subjects: Community and Identity Port Chicago World War II

76:00 - Life after the Navy / Remembering other mutineers

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Keywords: Bennon Dees; education

Subjects: Community and Identity Port Chicago World War II


ALLEN: Why don't you tell me, first of all, a little bit about how you came to get into the Navy? What were you doing beforehand, your home, things of that sort.

CRITTENDEN: I was born in Greenville, Alabama and was a high school student and I was inducted into the service.

ALLEN: Drafted.

CRITTENDEN: Drafted, yea. And then, I had a choice between the Navy and the Marine Corps. The reason I selected the Navy at that point is because the Marine Corps said, "Hey, we could take how skinny and tall you are, we'll take you and fatten you up and make you a fine Marine, and remember that the Marines are the 1:00first to land, they'll make history right away." I said, "They're the first to land?" They said, "Yeah." I said, "Well, where's the navy?" And I joined the Navy. And that's how I came by the Navy. And then too the Navy man was telling me about the three meals that you get, you know, and the cleanliness and all this kind of thing. And I felt safe with the Navy at that point.

ALLEN: Did you finish high school, then, before you went into the Service?

CRITTENDEN: No, finished after.

ALLEN: After you got out, okay.

CRITTENDEN: I was drafted. See I was eighteen years old in the twelfth grade and I was drafted out of the twelfth grade into the Navy. At some point they were letting some guys, I don't know what it was, but some persons -- I'll say it that way, at nineteen or eighteen, depending on their birthday, I imagine -- then again, I'm assuming this -- that they were able to stay and finish. And me, I wasn't able to stay and finish. I don't know if it's because I was a small-town boy from little Oklahoma, you know, and that might have been that situation. But then I left Greenville and went to Jackson, Mississippi. I was 2:00inducted and sworn into the Navy there in Jackson, Mississippi, shipped into Great Lakes.

ALLEN: So you went to Camp Robert Small, then?

CRITTENDEN: Right, Company 1166.

ALLEN: What month and year was that?

CRITTENDEN: This was somewhere in the neighborhood of August of '43, if my memory serves me correctly.

ALLEN: So you were there -- the training period there is six weeks?

CRITTENDEN: Six to eight weeks, eight weeks. I don't know. Well, there was a boot period. From there came home for, maybe that's what it was. Came home for so many weeks, twenty-one days or something, and from there back to Chicago, and 3:00by train to California, Port Chicago.

ALLEN: Did you know you were going to Port Chicago before you actually arrived there?

CRITTENDEN: I don't know. Maybe I did remember saying we were going to California, and Port Chicago was there. But the word California meant more than a little city or town that we were going to, and the purpose of going we didn't know. We knew that we were seamen at that point. I think we were right around between first and fifth company, graduating from Great Lakes that was Seamen.

ALLEN: Did you expect to go to sea?

CRITTENDEN: Well, that's the basis of our boot training -- while we were in boot training, this is the basis of what we were trained for.

ALLEN: To go to sea?


ALLEN: Okay. So you arrived in Port Chicago and that would have been -- when was that?


CRITTENDEN: That should have been latter part of, let's see, August, September or October, some part or latter part of '43.

ALLEN: Okay. September, October, 1943. So you were there almost nine months before the explosion. What was it like there then?

CRITTENDEN: Well Port Chicago when I arrived there I think my first company was something like a two, either Company Two, Division Two. So there was Division One, Division Two, Division Three and the like. ALLEN: That was Lieutenant Tobin.

CRITTENDEN: Oh, gosh, yeah. He was my company commander. How did you know -- oh, someone else told you?

ALLEN: From the court transcripts.

CRITTENDEN: Oh yea. Lieutenant Tobin. Yeah, that's right.

ALLEN: Was he a young guy himself?

CRITTENDEN: No, he should have been at that point maybe forty-five. He was not 5:00twenty-one -- he was not what they refer to as a ninety-day wonder.

ALLEN: There was a lot of them around then.

CRITTENDEN: Just thinking about Lt. Tobin, you would think that he was sent there for a sacrifice, not a sacrifice, but something he had done. You know, say, where we're going get rid of you and send you to Port Chicago. That's the way it appeared, because --

ALLEN: Like punishment.

CRITTENDEN: Yeah, really. Because Port Chicago was a deserted place. By that [point], the township of Port Chicago [was] 500 -- 1,000, 2,000 at the most. I've gone into the little community out there.

ALLEN: You went out to the little town there?

CRITTENDEN: It's in a valley, you know, surrounded by mountains and things of that sort. Very small town. We usually would go to Oakland and San Francisco and 6:00Stockton on liberty. Never did we spend any time in the little community at Port Chicago.

ALLEN: Was there Jim Crow there?

CRITTENDEN: Yes. But they were not -- they were foreigners in a sense, you know, blackheads and things of that sort.

ALLEN: Blackheads, what are -- ?

CRITTENDEN: Well I mean like Filipinos, peoples that got black --

ALLEN: In the community? The community was pretty much all white wasn't it, or was it?

CRITTENDEN: No, not all white. They were Mexicans. They were all mixed up. They talked with an accent and all, as I vaguely remember.

ALLEN: But they discriminated against Black men?

CRITTENDEN: Well, we didn't go to Port Chicago. We didn't go to Oakland, San Francisco because of that. We went to Oakland, San Francisco because of the larger city and black people were in that city. Now, there was no, that I can remember, no black family living in Port Chicago, because we went to Stockton, because they had blacks in that community. Stockton, California. We had to catch 7:00the train to go there, but we'd always ride the bus over to San Francisco and Oakland. I was there for a good little bit -- seemed like forever, really, but I was there long enough to be qualified for a leave. And I didn't get it, however, because I needed three more months to make a year, but if some guy couldn't go, didn't have the money at that point, I could substitute and go, you know, on leave, which was back here in Alabama at that point, but --

ALLEN: But actually you had never had a chance to come home then?


ALLEN: What was the actual work like itself? You worked on loading, or the winch, or -- ?

CRITTENDEN: Regular stevedore, hard labor, loading ammunition. It's hard to get you to understand. You would have had to have had that kind of experience really 8:00to, and I'll give it to you best I can. We were loading ammunition anywhere from the size of a hand grenade, which was boxed, to a block-buster. You would have to know what this is all about in order to understand what I'm saying. Hand grenade, big blockbusting bomb that I imagine an airplane would have two on each wing, something, or a few more than that. And all ships come in was empty. Then we would have to go up a gangplank to get aboard. When they left we could stay off the ship on the dock. That's the capacity of what we were doing as far as loading was concerned. We really loaded. It wasn't a fearful thing, you know, because we always said that if the ship ever blew up, we'd be the first out the 9:00hold. You've got to imagine coming out of a hold, down at the bottom of the ship and coming out. It was -- just what we thought, we'd be the first out. We didn't think about the thing too much.

ALLEN: Well what about -- did they have any kind of safety precaution? Or safety procedures there?

CRITTENDEN: No. No safety procedure. Because they, not really and truly they said that they wasn't going to blow up 'cause they didn't have a fuse in them, didn't have a something in them, and all. And it was almost impossible. Cause they'd handle them pretty rough.

ALLEN: Rough?

CRITTENDEN: When I say that, they -- you see, we would roll those things off the train, those blockbusters, roll those off the train, they would hit each other, and then we'd stack 'em out on the docks and then the crane would come over and we'd hook them up like two on there and they go down in the hold, and when they 10:00get down there sometimes the guy -- you know you had one guy who was -- well, let's see, operating the crane, another guy was acting as his eyes. He would be looking over the hold and this other guy, the operator, couldn't see. Me, I was the crane operator but another fellow -- I was watching him to tell me when to go and when to stop, you follow me? And sometimes that guy didn't feel too good, he'd look off and the dang thing hit the bottom of the ship. It was...well, after a while you paid it no attention. Nobody was really concerned.

ALLEN: The men didn't believe that it would actually explode?

CRITTENDEN: No, they really, well, they had to feel that way because we would kid each other about, "well, hey -- you better handle that thing with care cause you'll be the last one out from down there." And so this was an indication that we didn't have any idea that it was gonna blow, but she did blow.

ALLEN: You operated one of those cranes?

CRITTENDEN: No, no, I was one of the crane, well let's see what was the title 11:00of, I don't think I had a title. But it wasn't nothing that I did every night. Well one, say this week, I may be an assistant to the crane operator. Now that means he would be operating from here, and I'd be standing over a hole and I'd use my shoulder sometimes, tell him when to stop and when to go. This thing had two levers, one on the right and one on the left. He'd watch me. If I shook my right shoulder, that mean he would let it down a little further, then I'd hold 'em up and he would stop. Then I'd do the right, that kind of thing. I was supposed to really use my hands. But, it get chilly out there at night and we worked around the clock. We worked all seventy-two hours. You know, we'd work seven days {inaudible} right around the clock, it was a shift working. This 12:00shift would go off, and another one come on, and another one followed. Right around the clock.

ALLEN: What was the pace of the work like? Did you work at your own pace, or...was it a fast pace?

CRITTENDEN: You kind of set your own pace, but there was always a tonnage thing. Like the First Division put on "X" number of pounds, and Second Division would have to compete with those pounds, you follow me?

ALLEN: Would have to compete?

CRITTENDEN: Well not necessarily have to compete, but it was a kind of understanding thing. You know, you would always know what the division did in front of you. You know, if they put on "X" number then that meant you had to do more -- well, didn't have to, but you did more.

ALLEN: What, the officers would tell you that?

CRITTENDEN: Right. It was based on that kind of thing. And I imagine his satisfaction -- not personal satisfaction, but his superior -- was satisfied by that point. So we didn't have like, "I must work at this speed," you know what 13:00I'm talking about. It wasn't that kind of thing. If we all felt well and felt good and in good spirit, then we just load the doggone thing up. And if some guys didn't feel too well, if it was right-fallen, like we'd been on leave or liberty or something, then we're kind of pooped a little bit. But ordinary, after about four days we'd -- I don't know, I think it looked like to me -- it was, I don't know, two days you worked from eight to, say, five; two days from five to twelve, whatever it was. Two days from twelve 'til the next morning. And then seventy-two hours. And around that fourth day you were cut a little slack as far as what you did was concerned.

ALLEN: If you didn't do the tonnage that the officer expected you to do, did he take away liberties or some kind of privileges?

CRITTENDEN: Well, it wasn't taken away. But it was a threat used in a sense. And 14:00not say, "Hey you, don't do this kind of thing, or that kind of thing," you know. But you really knew that you had to come up to the other one in order to get your liberty. I don't know of a case where they didn't get it, but I do know -- well, didn't have to because they always came up to number of pounds or weight or whatever. Tonnage, I think it was.

ALLEN: Did you ever hear anything about the officers betting amongst themselves as to which divisions would load the most? Anything like that?

CRITTENDEN: I don't remember that. But I do know that we competed. Whether or not it was a bet per se, I can vaguely remember that -- We would pass each other some form or fashion either when we was going on ship, they was coming off. We'd 15:00have this little thing between us, Division One, Division Two, or company one, company two, whichever the thing was, had this little thing and I'm certain that it could have been possible men per se didn't do that kind of thing, but I'm certain that officers, not certain either, but stand to reason, 'cause it was there, that kind of thing.

ALLEN: How did the officers and the men get along generally, considering that it was a Jim Crow situation -- all the men loading the ammunition were black and draftees, and the officers white, there were no black officers. What kind of situation was that?

Crittenden:You know, that was 1943. It really was the kind of thing that we accepted. We accepted segregation and all-white officers -- we accepted that. We 16:00knew, because I remember from my oration, when I was in high school, I had to orate, and I was sensitive of the situation, like I said about my oration, but it had some effect on me. It had some effect on my results what it was. Let's see how this thing went, remember Pearl Harbor, it was Dorie Miller, who was not trained to fight, but picked up a gun and fought for his country. He proved himself capable and if more black men were given the opportunity to serve their country they would prove themselves faithful and trustworthy in the end. If a black man is capable, give him a chance {inaudible} live for servitude {inaudible}. A man is still a man: in fact all men of faith is the same {inaudible}...come back the same opportunity. Now, if I had that in high school, you know when I see a white officer and no black officers if I, if this was a 17:00year pass, I kind of sort of thought, why not, we should and the man is capable, this kind of thing. 'Cause really truly the only whites there were people -- ok the only non-white officers was a chief petty officer, he was a carpenter and he's the one who did the construction as far as, you know, when you load an ammunition, you had to have braces and things to hold this ammunition. He was one who did this kind of thing. He had the skill for it. And non-skilled, that's what I'm trying to say. The non-skilled work was black seamans. Skilled work was more than white. And each division, or each company, whatever the situation was at that point, had these carpenters. They were petty officers and they were like, they didn't live in dorms now, when I say dorms, they didn't live in our barracks.


ALLEN: But they lived on the base?

CRITTENDEN: Yeah. You know, I can't remember where in the hell they lived, come to think about it, and I don't remember where the officers lived. [Phone rings] Excuse me.

ALLEN: What kind of guy was Lieutenant Tobin? What kind of person was he?

CRITTENDEN: Well, Lieutenant Tobin, as far as I was concerned -- now, you know, I can look back on the situation and see that he was something like a psychologist. He used all this buddy-buddy stuff and friendship stuff. No rank. Didn't make you no petty officer so you could make more money and all that kind of thing, but he was the kind of guy that would get you next to him, make you work. That's what it amounted to. Make you feel real good toward him and toward what you were doing but -- like I told you about my oration, you know, that was 19:00always on the back of your mind, you know, and that kind of thing. Now, we're talking about individuals. Like Jack Crittenden, and Small, and Fleece, we all didn't come from the same background, but we all black. And we were all young black at that point. We were all -- most of us was -- sensitive blacks, you know, and we knew that the situation just shouldn't have been that way, but it appeared that it was out of reach, you know, for someone to handle it. So the strangest thing, though, was that, you went to inspection, you know, and you had to line up and each Company and the commanding officer -- inspect their Companies and all this kind of thing. And you wouldn't see nothing but black folk, in a sense other than, frankly, I don't remember these carpenters. I 20:00remember you'd be standing in the rank, and then this guy came down and worked with you like he was on your, well, wasn't on your ship...he came down that night on your ship, I have to say your ship, but when you was out in inspection, he wasn't there as an officer standing out front. We had black officers. Not black officers, we had black non-commissioned officers. We had petty officers. Who were the slave drivers by the way.

ALLEN: Of course.

CRITTENDEN: They wouldn't select anybody who was not a slave driver.

ALLEN: Did the men have any grievances about ratings, transfers or -- ?

CRITTENDEN: Yeah, they had those.

ALLEN: Was there any attempt to do anything about it or to register a complaint or, I don't know what could have been done, but what was the situation like with regards to that?

CRITTENDEN: Actually, to try to answer the question, I'm saying it in this vein 21:00and having to reflect on present knowledge and feelings, past and all this kind of thing. Well, anyway, most persons like me: I wanted another rank because of money, not because of prestige or anything in it. I wanted to make Seaman First because this meant I make more money. I wanted to make Petty Officer Third, this meant more money for me, not responsibilities or chest stuck out and this kind of thing. It wasn't that. And we worked with that thing in mind. You worked hard at everything so that you would make a rank -- and that was always what you were reaching for. That first class rating, rank, so you could make more money. This was done on the basis of tonnage and harder you worked and this kind of thing -- the less problems you created. Just the good ole Joe. If you was a good ole Joe, you could make first class seaman. But it was the kind of thing that I didn't 22:00realize then and know now, that was gonna be "X" number of seaman second, "X" number of seaman first, "X" number of petty officer third, "X" number of petty officer second, and no others you see. No matter how hard you worked. See what I'm talking about? It wasn't going to be...because each company consist of "X" number of officers, and their rank was "X" like Lieutenant, and Captain, and this and the other. Then you had a chief petty officer, a first-class petty officer -- which was black -- , and then a second-class petty officer, and then a third-class. Number of seamen second, number of seamen first. And you didn't get beyond that. No matter how hard that seaman first tried to get petty officer third -- as far as his work and his skill is concerned -- he couldn't get because it just wasn't in the market. It wasn't there to get. There was going to 23:00be two petty officers -- this is just an example; two third-class petty officers, and not matter how hard the first-class petty officer worked, there was only going to be two.

ALLEN: So you were locked into a situation where promotion wasn't possible, unless you got a transfer.

CRITTENDEN: That's the reason I said in the outset about Tobin, he was Lieutenant Tobin, and last I remember was Lieutenant Tobin, you know. I'm certain that he probably retired or died no more than Captain Tobin. I felt that it was some kind of thing, the reason that he was there. He came there as Lieutenant Tobin and last I remember was Lieutenant Tobin. He was a psychologist because he did everything -- and then I'm not saying that he was a psychologist, I say it that way. His duties to his superior led you to believe that because 24:00the things he used on us, I'm certain he used on us because they were being used on him, and they were being pressured that way.

ALLEN: But he wasn't a brutal type of guy?


ALLEN: Psychologist.

CRITTENDEN: Yea. He would use the other technique --

ALLEN: The indirect approach, right?

CRITTENDEN: Yea. And then the results was -- you got the work done. And that's what it was. It was not to make you mad to get it done, but -- because really and truly those guys really wasn't afraid down there on the bottom of the ship -- but it was hard work and it was cold at times.

ALLEN: Were the officers out there on the pier with you when you were working or did they -- ?

CRITTENDEN: Mostly you had various holds, well, what I'm talking about is loading. They were moving about and would peep over in the hold to see how you were doing.

ALLEN: They would be present, though?


CRITTENDEN: Yea. If I can remember correctly. I don't think they carried us down there, and left, not that kind of thing.

ALLEN: Amongst the enlisted men themselves, were there guys who were the formal leaders or spokesmen, or something like that?

Crittenden:No more than -- you're talking about grievances and things of that sort?

ALLEN: Yea, when there were grievances, would somebody speak up for the group?

CRITTENDEN: No. It was strictly military. You know, this guy who was my petty officer, he stayed in the same barrack. You know, you could grieve all you want with him. That kind of thing. It was left to him to get it to Tobin you know. And there are times when you'd see the lieutenant out there in the morning, but golly, you was an enlisted man. You just didn't: "Hey, Lieutenant Tobin, what about such and such a thing." You didn't do that kind of thing, because you was military and you had certain restrictions, and you geared a certain way and that 26:00kind of thing.

ALLEN: And you expected the Petty officer to --

CRITTENDEN: Yeah. And then, too, it was the kind of thing, well, you know, like I say. That you talk to this man, thinking that he can help you do something other things. If I wanted to get a leave or something, I didn't go to Lieutenant Tobin. He was supposed to see this kind of thing being done and all. You know how they do, they'll take, well you don't know how they do, not saying that you did. Well anyway they would -- out of the company -- they would take, they would some kind of way -- I don't know how it all worked out -- but they would always select a person and make him petty officer, who in turn was the kind of guy...he was a man who this man could handle.

ALLEN: Uncle Tom?

CRITTENDEN: Yeah, well that kind of person. It's just the situation where in it 27:00seems that that kind of man existed for that kind of thing.

ALLEN: So they were buffers between you and the officers? So your grievances stopped there.

CRITTENDEN: Yeah. 'Cause his grievances wasn't yours. See, like this man is a petty officer, he's making way more money that I am. I'm second class seaman and he's first class petty officer. He possibly, in more instances than one, had less knowledge than I did. And he was real pleased to be first class petty officer knowing full well that he had say three or four guys out there who had good education in a sense at that point. But he was boss. And he was satisfied with that. Not necessarily pay is concerned.

ALLEN: Being over somebody.

CRITTENDEN: Yes. This is a poor example, but kind of like a mice standing up 28:00telling a cat what to do.

ALLEN: So they were like the drivers. They had the whip. At the same time, you were supposed to go through them if you didn't like what was being done.

CRITTENDEN: It was just programmed that way and there was nothing you could do about it. No matter what grievances we had, sooner or later -- well one thing about it -- well I wasn't a trouble-maker -- I'll say this much, when another division came in, okay, the same night that we had the explosion I was transferred from my division, where they would do most of them this way -- but 29:00they would transfer. In other words I say it like this: if Jack Crittenden was kind of a guy that would say wrong things to the wrong person, you know, and a new division would come in -- this place was growing, you know. When we went there, when I got there, we was Division Two. I don't think it was no more than division one there at that point, you know. And then it got to be like nine, ten down the line. Well, I was transferred. New division came in that day, and I was transferred from my division to the new division. I couldn't understand why the hell they transferred me. I didn't want to get with them boots. There's a sense, you know. I wasn't going with a bunch of boots. So consequently I didn't want to be there with them. Really and truly -- that division got blowed up, that night.

ALLEN: That was the division that worked.

CRITTENDEN: Yea. And some kind of way, man I messed around there -- and I often 30:00think about that. And it was another fellow named Philips. The boy was either named Fred Philips, or, his name was Philips. We got to be pretty good friends, now this boy. I think his name was Philips. I may be wrong, but I'll say this much, his father, his parents, had something to do with one of these papers, either Chicago Defender, Pittsburg Courrier, or something. This boy from Philadelphia. When they transferred him to this division, this guy went over the hill, 'cause after the explosion he was missing. But he was not down on the ship. And I saw him later, and I said, "Hey man, stay missing," because he was 31:00supposed to been down with that division that went down that night.

But the ironic thing about this whole thing, and I don't know if you experienced through interviewing some others, made mention of this thing, and this is the thing that stuck with me for a long time. And that is okay, we just loaded the last ship, and it left at 3:30, between 1:00 and 3:00. It took off. So, my division is supposed to go to work at 5:00. So, we watched the bay, and if a ship didn't come in, that meant that we didn't have to go to work that night and we knew full well that after 4:00, no ship was coming in -- you follow me? But the night of the explosion -- and this is where I say there had to be some crap, 32:00because the night of the explosion, we all settled. "We ain't got to go to work." And this ship came in. We all looked, said, "Golly," 'cause it was supposed to been something like the situation that happened, that usually if at 4:00 we see the ship out there, we ain't got to worry. Son of a gun, you won't make it tonight. He stayed out there, where this was, it was like a blocked bridge or locked gap or something. He stayed there till the next morning. Then this would open up, you could come in. But this particular night that we had the explosion, and I don't know if this came out, but I know it stuck with me because I was so involved in it, because I had to get myself transferred between the time that that division go to work and not go to work, follow me? Okay. And I begged Tobin. I begged Lieutenant Tobin to please transfer me back.


ALLEN: Why did they transfer you, did you ever find out?

CRITTENDEN: Well, like I said, maybe I said some things I shouldn't have said, or spoke up somewhere I shouldn't have. Said something about the petty officer, said he was this or the other. That kind of thing. Little young nincompoop like me, at that point, might have said some things. I'm not certain. But anyways, I got myself transferred back to my original company and didn't have to go to work, you follow me. I know I had to go on guard duty that night 'cause that's where I was at the time of the explosion, I was over reporting for duty. But this ship came in at an unusual point in time. Out of my period there and watching all the ships come in, none had come in like this.

ALLEN: That must have been the Quinault Victory I think. There were the two 34:00ships that were loading, one was almost completely loaded the Brian. And this new one came in. Oh that's right, it was a brand new ship, too. This was going to be the maiden voyage. It had just come out of the shipyard. It never hauled any cargo before. This was going to be the maiden voyage, when it pulled in there.

CRITTENDEN: Now this thing that pulled in there empty, no matter what it was, name and all, maybe you've found this out, but the one pulled in there empty came in at a time when no other ship had come in. Because it was past 4:00 when that ship came in. And usually --

ALLEN: Well that wasn't in the records. All I saw was that it was a new ship and the name and so forth. It didn't say anything about the time.

CRITTENDEN: To me, the reason it stuck with me so much is because, well I'm certain that some of the other guys, especially those got blown to pieces down 35:00there, because they would take -- now I'm confused myself a little bit -- But they would take... well I might not have been there. Might have not transferred me over there simply because I was running my mouth. They could have transferred me over there gonna make a petty officer out of me. I don't know. But they would take "know" guys -- guys that know how put with the new division. Now, you could know how and still be a loud mouth, classifying myself in that vein, but they would take some guys who knew how and put with the new guys to teach them how. But after you had been with guys and you know what they work like and how they work and you knew what you were doing, you didn't have to worry about showing somebody and doing over half the work, so you didn't want to go with a new division. That's the situation at that point.

But this ship came in at this bad time. And this had never happened. And I just want to say that over and over again because this is the case. I'm not saying that that was the case, but the reason of the explosion I'm not certain -- but I 36:00do know no other ship came in at that time. Okay, those guys who didn't go to work that night, they had a little shing-shong and then they bedded down to go to bed. Well, the guy came in and told me, this same petty officer in my Division Two said, "Jack, you're gonna have to go on guard duty tonight." This is guard duty right around your own little barracks, not the kind of thing where you're walking the fence and all. So I had to go over to what is considered headquarters to get my name down there and all.

This is when it all happened. This is about 10:30, 11:00 something like that. It was just before taps, just before the lights out. And I'm over there with the petty officer, sitting there in the window, telling 'em my name and all that. Man, this damn thing happened. This was when the lights, the light... you know 37:00how they talk about sound travel? And how light out-travels sound? This is a proven fact: the light travels fast, because, well, the first thing was this great big flash, and I knocked myself somewhere but I don't know where, but I found myself outside of that building. And I don't remember going out of no window or climbing out of it, but I was outside the window and only one little scar on my arm here. You're talking about torn up.

Everybody felt at that point that it was another Pearl Harbor at Port Chicago -- not that the ships had blew up, because you couldn't even think about that at that point, because of the building that you were in and the barracks and all that, caved in, windows busted out, blown out -- and all that kind of thing. People running and hollering. Some of the guys lost their sight. Just cut all to pieces. You know, that was a bunch of guys sleeping. The building was a lot of 38:00windows, lower and upper deck. Whole side was windows. And they were blown to pieces. Also, we didn't have no lights, everybody running wild, just going like wild fire. Guys just cleared the fences. Them barbed wire fences, guys cleared that, went up in them mountains. Just running. Finally they got the emergency lights together. "Let's go down and see what happened down at the dock." Well, then some guys come by in the truck and we all go down there, come down there don't see no dock, no ship, no nothing. You can imagine what this is. Just left from down there at 4:00, left the ship loaded.

ALLEN: You went down with them when they went down there?

CRITTENDEN: Well, yeah.

ALLEN: That night you went down there?

CRITTENDEN: But we couldn't see nothing.

ALLEN: Just the water I guess.

CRITTENDEN: Yeah, 'cause the docks wasn't there or nothing. And there was no 39:00light down there.

ALLEN: So you were still there in the next morning, you didn't get transferred out, 'cause some guys moved out that night.

CRITTENDEN: Well those that got moved out that night got hurt.

ALLEN: But you were still around the next morning?

CRITTENDEN: Yeah, I only got a little scratch right here on my arm. When I got to Port Chicago, I'll say it like that. I was there the next morning, 'cause we went back to the dock next morning. Man, it was awful -- that was a sight. You see a shoe with a foot in it, and then you would remember how you'd said you're gonna be the first one out of the hold. And you see a head floating across on the water -- just the head, arm. Bodies, just awful. And no ships still and no dock. If you visit Port Chicago -- and I believe that base is still there -- part of that ship like a side, maybe about the size of this table, went into the 40:00concrete. It was there when I left Port Chicago, on one of those streets there. I think where the officers live that son of a gun came over there and came into that and you couldn't move it.

Now I saw this before leaving. I don't know if I was there two days or one day after the explosion, but I was there enough to see that. But that was quite an experience the next day. That thing just kept you from sleeping at night -- going down to that dock, watching -- I mean looking, and then you had buddies of yours who left that ship, left your company that was transferred to that company that went down that night -- out of your division. Then again, this is just one of those tragedies of war, and all. I'm saying that now. But it wasn't that way 41:00-- it was awful. And you just had madfolk at that point. Guys just lost their minds -- plus so many guys lost their sight and couldn't see, 'cause I remember leading some of 'em on the bus. They had little ambulances all around running, they come falling from Oakland to San Francisco. They heard it all the way from there. The whole blockbuster went forty-five miles away.

ALLEN: That's right. Windows were blown out -- way, way out. People heard it for forty, fifty miles. The next morning then, what happened? You got sent up to another base or what?

CRITTENDEN: Well, I don't know, like I say, I don't know if it was the next day, I don't think I spend another night there. This was, this had to be after taps. How soon after taps, I don't know. I was going on my guard duty at 12:00, or at 42:0010:00. But it was after taps -- what they call lights out. So we had all this running and ripping and getting folks to the hospital and all until the next morning. And this is where I was doing what I could to help until the next morning. Then the next morning they carried us over to the next naval base over there, I forgot.

ALLEN: Mare Island?

CRITTENDEN: Mare Island, yeah. This is where we stayed for a day or so, a week or more, a period. But shortly after that they regrouped all divisions, 'cause some, half the guys done over the hill, they finally came back. This is when each commanding officer would get his division -- I guess his division officer 43:00at that point -- get his division and he would gather a little muster, and get the names and see who's missing and who's not missing. But nobody got a leave now. Nobody got a leave to go home or this kind of thing. They didn't think to say, "Hey, let's get these guys away from here, given 'em thirty days leave." I don't know how long this period was at Mare Island before. This was a submarine base really -- that's what it was. I don't know how long we were there before they regrouped and started this "let's go back to work."

And this is where it all happened, this mutiny business. They tried to trick us. I mean, those people were just awful at that point. Like, Lieutenant Tobin told 44:00me, he said, "Jack, now you're a fine young person, and no use getting yourself involved." He say, "Now come on, sign this saying you're going back to work." I said, "Lieutenant Tobin, I'm afraid." I said, "What about transferring me to the CB's? Transfer me to the submarine. Transfer me to oversea duty." I said, "Just transfer me. I'm through with this ship business." Man ain't got no fight. I said -- I don't know how many guys will tell you this, "Man, I got a chance over there with the enemy. But I ain't got no chance in that hold." Know what I'm talking about. Man, they wasn't hearing this. Then this thing went on until you provoked him. It got to the point where you were either gonna sign here and go to work or you ain't gonna sign. "Are you going to sign?" I said, "Lieutenant, well -- ." It wasn't that you refused, just, "Hey I'm afraid." When you say you're afraid, that means you refuse. No, when I say I'm afraid, that mean I'm afraid." I reflect on that thing. I don't know what kind of person he thought he 45:00was dealing with at that point.

ALLEN: So he didn't order you to go back to work?

CRITTENDEN: Yeah, yeah. Well it got down to that. It got down to that, if you don't --

ALLEN: Did he talk to you individually, or did he have all the men mustered and then he gave an order and --

CRITTENDEN: Well, he talked to us as a division or a company. He's standing there talking to us. And then that didn't work. Then, he got down to Jack Crittenden, and I'm standing right there. And then I had to answer the question. And I steadfastly told him that I was afraid, no matter what he said. If he referred to going back to loading ammunition, I was afraid. "That mean that you ain't going back -- that mean that you're refusing an order," and all that. "No, that mean I'm afraid." And I stayed there. Well that provoked him to a point 46:00where he put down what he wanted to put down. And this is the way it all kind of wind up. And then they finally took this list of names, we'll say it like that, that was supposed to have indicated that they refused to go to work. And they put those guys on a ship.

ALLEN: Out on the barge?

CRITTENDEN: Well, before they did that, let me back up a little bit, before they did that, each company officer had his division and he would talking to his men, you know, talk to 'em as a group, and couldn't get nothing going there, then he'd talk to them as an individual. Still couldn't get nothing going to their satisfaction, then they had the commandant or some guy who was over that California district, or over that area.

ALLEN: Oh yeah, Admiral Wright.

CRITTENDEN: Yeah. Well, he came in he got us all into -- well there's about 47:00three to four divisions or companies -- and he put us into this little horseshoe like form. And he got right in the center. And this is where the order came, "If you don't go back to work, I'll have you all shot." So this kind of frightened these guys who had families and all. I told them guys, "Man, this guy can't have nobody shot." I say, "We ain't fighting no war here. They can't do this. They'd have to have an act of Congress to shoot somebody in the United States. He just can't say 'shoot me' and shoot me." "He said it!" I said, "well man, that man can't get you shot, man. Hell, he just can't order someone to shoot you." I say, "He has to have an act of Congress or somebody bigger than he is to say 'shoot me.' And it can't be no Secretary of Navy." That's what I was telling this guy 48:00right here.

Well, anyway, I'm saying -- you know you get to mumbling among yourselves, when the man say, "I'm gonna have you all shot." [mumbling noises] And then, he said, "All those who are going back to work, I want you to come over here and put your name down. All those who ain't going back to work, go on down there on that barge." Boy, by that time, after you got the guys who, well, "I've got a wife and kids," he goin' over there and put his name down. And then you had that bunch that didn't go over there and put their name down. And after about thirty seconds, I imagine -- after that, they felt this was the total number that was going to put their name down. Man, they had them Marines in there -- I imagine 500 of them -- they came in there with Thompson machine guns, and all sorts of stuff that scared you to death. You thought for sure you're gonna be shot at this point, you know. And that's when they put us on the barge.

ALLEN: The Marines were all white, right?


ALLEN: So they put you on the barge and they kept you there for a while. What 49:00happened on the barge?

CRITTENDEN: Well, at the barge -- where you got bunch of guys on the barge -- and we're all scared, and we don't know what's going on. They got us down there. Can't get off. We don't know whether the guys are gonna kill us or not down there. They got us almost in a panic, in a sense. So we got to get together try to talk to these guys and tell them, "Hey, hey -- " Like, I was telling this guy standing next to me, "Man, them guys can't shoot you like dogs." You know what I'm talking about. Well a little history reflects on you a bit. If you know something about the Constitution of the United States, there is some governing something, you know, and you reflect on that at this point. And this is what I was doing, I was reflecting on that at that point.

ALLEN: Were you talking to some of the guys who --

CRITTENDEN: Yeah. Sure, I talked to them. Then we had a little meeting down there on that barge, and we tried --

ALLEN: There was a meeting where Small spoke and some other guys spoke?

CRITTENDEN: Yeah. I don't remember names in a sense.


ALLEN: Give me a general sense of what happened there.

CRITTENDEN: Well, at the meeting we were led to believe or feel that nobody was gonna get hurt. That the results of this was gonna be something done. That we wasn't going to leave here the same as we came, in a sense, you know. We just stick together, and some changes is gonna be made. This is what we did at that point. Now, but on the contrary, we had all these guys on the barge. This was more than the fifty, you know what I'm talking about. But this thing narrowed itself down to fifty. I don't know how in the hell it got to be fifty.

ALLEN: More and more guys went back to work?

CRITTENDEN: Yeah. But actually you know what it did. Remember me telling you a minute ago about this boy William. Fleece? There was really forty-eight guys. William Fleece and I went over the hill. And they caught us over the hill, they 51:00caught us. When I say over the hill, we went AWOL.

ALLEN: From the barge?

CRITTENDEN: Yeah, well I think at a point they said, "How did they get away?" I believe there was some at the barge -- and I might have been in that group -- at the last minute, I think Bill and I said, "Hey man, let's get off that barge." The best way to set off the barge is to say we going back to work. And I think this is what we did. We decided that we were going to put our name on -- we were going back to work. We went over the hill. Well a bunch of them did this, you know. But then there was about forty-eight who said, "I ain't going nowhere." But then when they caught me and William, they said, "you're going to work." We said, "No, we ain't going to work. We're afraid." That's when they put us with the other forty-eight to make it fifty. This is when it came to the trial and 52:00all this kind of crap. That trial -- look, that experience was worse than the shit when we were waiting for the trial.

ALLEN: What was it like?

CRITTENDEN: We were being guarded by Marines -- they were all white. And I remember some of the names: Trayham and Wadsworth. Boy, they were awful white people from down Louisiana. Trayham and Wadsworth. But anyway, we were all put into --

ALLEN: Was this at Treasure Island?

CRITTENDEN: Treasure Island. Boy, you talking about scared, man, I've had, well, you know, you get this work detail, but it wasn't really a work detail. You wasn't doing that much. Man they'd get you out of there -- like Trayham and Wadsworth, whenever they, we was in this big open stockade room. These Marines was outside, waiting for each Marine got six guys or eight guys. And when say, 53:00"Art Trayham", we was all in line. Boy, when they call Trayham's name, no line. Everybody ran. Or Wadsworth. Everybody ran. Because see what happened, Wadsworth, when he got his number -- whatever it was. Eight, six -- he'd run you all day. He'd get you out there and he'd just double-time you back and forth, back and forth. I mean, all around Treasure Island. Some guys, you know, all of 'em wasn't that cruel. The others -- I'd seen some guys who was tight between leg, just blistered between there, from running.

But I remember, boy, this goddamn Trayham one day. And I couldn't get out of getting in his group. And he carried us down to the beach, down to the water. We were pulling logs out of the water and putting them on the beach. He was standing there. And they're down there drinking liquor and all this, and was in charge of us. But they really was haters, because they had gone to Corregidor 54:00and Saipan and all these places. They had survived that beachhead. And they shipped them back and put them in charge of stockade. And they were just cruel.

Well anyway, I think it was either six or eight -- whatever the number -- but anyway, he would be half-drunk. He'd be counting and couldn't count us, and he's saying one's missing, and he's gonna shoot the rest of 'em. Take his '45 and put one in the chamber, and make us all stand up there and aim at us, you know what I'm talking about, and then, we just like little mices trembling, telling him, "We're all here. Here's one, two, three, four." We's counting for him. And we'd go through that, day in and day out. This is before the trial. Then the trial lasted thirty-three days. The trial was just procedure, it was going through this. We knew before the trial and what it was going to be like. I mean, we knew 55:00we was going to be guilty no matter what we said. Because we were told that we can't say certain things. Or it has been covered, and you know full well it wasn't covered.

ALLEN: Did you get to meet the defense lawyer before the trial? The Navy lieutenant was your defense lawyer --

CRITTENDEN: Yeah, I don't remember that.

ALLEN: Did y'all have a chance to have a conference with them before the meeting -- I mean, before the trial?

CRITTENDEN: We were just told that we was going to have. It seem to me more than one lawyer. Look like to me we had five or six.

Allen:Yeah. But he was the chief. There was three or four others who worked with him. But what I was wondering is whether you had any conferences with him to work out a defense, or you were just told that you're going to have this lawyer and --

CRITTENDEN: Let me reflect a little bit. Before we became general court martial prisoners, okay, they transferred us when we left the barge, we were sent 56:00someplace else.

ALLEN: Shoemaker. Camp Shoemaker.

CRITTENDEN: Yeah. And this is where the trickery started, to get you court-martialed, because I remember Lieutenant Tobin showing up and interviewed me. Wanted to know what went on on the barge, and he was my friend and all this kind of thing. He said, "Jack, come on in. Glad to see you." I said, "Hey, Lieutenant Tobin. How are you doing?" I think it was Lt. Tobin. It was an officer that knew me from Port Chicago. Might have been one of the subordinates. But anyway, it seems to me it should have been Tobin. He said, "Jack I'm here to help you. You're in trouble and I'm here to help you." I said "Yeah, it look like I'm in trouble. I got a big P on me." He said, "Tell me what happened down 57:00on the barge." I said, "Lieutenant Tobin," or whatever the guy's name was, I was talking to him, "I don't know what went on the barge, I was a scared jackrabbit on the barge." He said, "Now Jack, you know what went on on that barge."

Well, we had another fellow that was -- had problems speaking, named Benton Dees. Benton's up in Huntsville. Dees was a rural, country, unintelligent boy. You know, you call his name, his serial number, he getting ready to say his name and he couldn't get it out. "B-B-B-B-B-B-B." He'd try to say 'Benton," you know. Then I would say it for him. I'd say, "Benton Dees." Then he'd say, "Benton Dees." He'd bring it out then. But anyway, Benton Dees had seen Tobin before I 58:00did. And Benton Dees was like, I say, a person, if you told him, "Hey, I'm your friend I'm here to help you," and whatever you wanted -- if he had it -- he'd give it to you. No matter what it was. If it was information, or if you'd say: "Didn't this happen?" "Yes, sir." You know, that kind of thing. Or "This didn't happen, did it?" "No, sir." That kind of thing. He was really trying to just satisfy the man, no matter what the man said. 'Cause the man had him to believe that he was there to help him. And I knew this about Dees because Dees and I was in boot camp together. Dees and I was in Port Chicago together. Dees and I went to prison together. And I would always keep Dees close to me, 'cause I could help him out. That kind of thing. And another fellow like that named John Collins. That name comes up, John S. Collins, 'cause I did all the writing of his letters for him. When I got out of the service, I had all his letters and 59:00his pictures. He wouldn't know his name if it was in neon lights, you know. But he was a hell of a gambler. Got to count money. He could cheat in cards. But he couldn't read or write. I took care of all his correspondence. {inaudible}

But anyway, Benton Dees went into Tobin before -- going back to that now -- he went into Tobin to talk. Benton Dees went out, I went in. So he told me, he said, "Jack, you ain't very cooperative." "What you mean?" He said, "Dees told me you spoke at the meeting, and you were one of the guards." I said, "Me?" I said, "Not me." I said, "Jack Crittenden was too scared to move. I thought certain every minute the Marines was gonna call me out and shoot me, but I wasn't that afraid." You know. But I'm just telling Tobin this, because I know damn well Tobin wasn't my friend. Tobin had a uniform on. He was a lieutenant in the Navy. Jack Crittenden got a "P" on, and he's a prisoner. He wasn't there to 60:00help me, and I know full well that wasn't. If he was, it was the wrong time to help me, you know. And I wasn't the smartest thing then, nor was I the dumbest thing then. Just like one and one make two. Sometime one and one doesn't make two, and I'm well aware of the fact that it doesn't make two here.

CRITTENDEN: Tobin was telling me he was here to help me, and that he was my friend, but I knew full well he wasn't here to help me, nor was he there to be my friend. 'Cause like I said, you know, but I wasn't cooperative. You know, I 61:00didn't say the things that he wanted to hear. So when I came out of there, man, I thought that marine was going to beat me up. Man, he snatched me and jumped me around there, you know.

ALLEN: What was the thing about the barge, though? How come he wanted to know what happened on the barge?

CRITTENDEN: This was the time when these fifty guys decided that they was gonna stay right together, stick together. And whatever happened to 'cause these forty-eight guys to stick together, they were concerned about that. And then not only that, they were being charged with mutiny and they wanted to make certain that mutiny had taken place. See, this is why they were concerned about what happened on the barge. But then, after Tobin didn't get the kind of information that he thought he deserved, or should have gotten from me. I don't have no statement. You know, when you get to court, "Didn't you say such and such a 62:00thing? Here is your signature and all." So I don't have no statement, and they got to get the statement signed by these guys, signed by these guys, that they said such and such. So I don't have no statement, you know, to go to court with. So, the next two or three days, call me back up there. Wherever this back up was, it was like I was down there in the stockade, they put handcuffs on me and carry me up to where it's not a stockade, you following? This is where I'm being interviewed, and outside is a Marine. And if you ain't very cooperative, they tell Marine, "come in here." That Marine come in there with that billy club, you know what I'm talking about. And he's standing there, gritting his teeth and all. Put some fear in you. Then you supposed to say, "Yes sir. That's right. Yes sir." You know. But this didn't take place, so, okay, consequently, Lieutenant Tobin told me, "Well, Jack, you ain't being very helpful," like, "take him out here!" That same man who said he was there to help me. Finally, they still had no statement on me and one or two of us, or three or four of us. I don't know 63:00the total number altogether. So, the officer can't handle it. So, they get a yeoman, some regular old sailor. "Come on in, Jack. How you doing today? Jack, here is the situation. All I intend to do is to write down whatever you say, and I just want you to sign it. Okay, now. Jack, what happened on the barge?" I said, "I don't know what happened on the barge. I told you before, what happened on the barge that was I was scared as hell on the barge. I didn't know what was happening. I was thinking more about my life than anything else." "Wasn't there a meeting on the barge?" I said, "Yeah, I met with three or four guys sitting down next to me." I said, "We all met." I said, "We was talking we was scared." "I'm talking about -- wasn't there a meeting of the whole group?" I said, "I don't know nothing about a meeting as a whole group." "Didn't such-and-such a person speak? Didn't he say we had the Navy by the balls? Didn't -- ?" You know, this kind of thing. "I don't know. If it was," I said, "I don't know anything about it." Anyway, this guy. He said, "Well I'm gonna write this down," just 64:00like when he got down there. He said, "Now, you read that." I started to read, and I said, "I didn't say this." He say, "Well, you didn't say it that way. You were using poor grammar, and I just changed it around." "Well," I said, "if Jack is going to sign it, you're going to write it just like Jack said -- poor grammar or no poor grammar, because this changes my thought. This changes my statement." "No it don't!"

Well, he get mad. You know. So, finally I didn't have a statement. The trial came up, and I didn't have a statement. Well, they kept this, but I didn't sign it. So, you know, I'm reflecting a little bit. [laughs] I guess I was a mother back there. It didn't appear that way. I guess to them I was. If I remember correctly, I went up there about four or five times. Get you to sign this or get 65:00you to say this. But then the trial came. This is where I haven't read my proceedings. Boy, I sure would like to get my hands on those things again.

ALLEN: Do you have a copy of it still?

CRITTENDEN: No. It was about that thick.

ALLEN: It's like this. I got a copy made of the whole thing. It's 2,000 pages.

CRITTENDEN: I know it's thirty-three days, and I remember bringing that. I tell you what, I had to serve a year's probation in the Philippines, and I kept that thing from that period. I brought it home -- but when I got home, I don't know what happened. Looked like to me it was in sections.

ALLEN: They had in volumes.

CRITTENDEN: Yeah, it was in volumes. I remember I had that son-of-a-gun, and I nourished that rascal with all my life for the whole period because that thing. See, I remember, you know: "Tried by general court martial. One specification tried and found guilty of mutiny. Sentenced for a period of fifteen years." "Your name Jack Crittenden?" He'd hand that thing to you, man; snapped them 66:00handcuffs on you, put you on that train, and you were gone. You follow me? And I wasn't about to let that kind of thing just be nothing in my life. Man, I was just thinking fifteen years here I am nineteen years old. "How old am I going to be?" You know, "Where's my momma and poppa?" And this thing. I started thinking about what's going to happen and all. And I came from supposed to have been a good-old Christian, southern Alabama home, you know. Born and reared in the Methodist church. Knew the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. All that kind of thing. So, it wasn't the kind of thing wherein they that I wasn't a god-fearing person. It was just that you look some things square in the eye, it wasn't just what you really saw. It wasn't supposed to be. Tell you one thing, and then you look at something else.

ALLEN: Do you recall at the trial when they marched you off to the train to go to San Pedro, did they make you carry your duffle bag and this big transcript? 67:00Somebody else described that to me, I said, Man that's like a ball and chain.

CRITTENDEN: Yeah. It was.

ALLEN: Your transcript is your ball and chain.

CRITTENDEN: Carried that on with you. And then, the thing that's so frightening was the way you were being handled. They were handling you, boy, like you had killed the whole Supreme Court of the United States. I mean, you had done something that was just immoral -- just unforgivable. And they treated you that way -- at least the marines did. They put fear in you from the word say "go." My handcuffs on me was so tight, I'd ask him to loosen it just a little bit. He said, "You should have thought about this six months ago." It was awful.

ALLEN: Does anything stand out in your mind particularly about the trial itself? 68:00Any particular event or thing that occurred there during those thirty-three days?

CRITTENDEN: Well, let's see. If I remember correctly...well, frankly, Thurgood Marshall when he came.

ALLEN: You knew him when he showed up?

CRITTENDEN: Yeah. I knew him, and I want to see him again one day. And I proposed to just sit down and visit with him. Really like to talk to him.

ALLEN: Did you get a chance to meet him and talk to him?

CRITTENDEN: Yeah. He came to San Pedro, California just to visit, see how we were being treated. I got a chance to -- he didn't know me no more than he did anybody else. I mean, my name didn't stand out in any specific. I mean Jack Crittenden was just one of the fifty mutineers.

ALLEN: But he came to San Pedro.

CRITTENDEN: Yeah, he came to San Pedro, and to assure us that he was doing all he could, and said to hang in there. "Don't give up hope." He did that. He sent 69:00us some magazines, books and all that kind of stuff. Pamphlets to read, to show what peoples was doing. That's why I've been a supporter of that NAACP for hell and eternity.

ALLEN: Do you remember a white women reporter at the trial, who covered the trial? She might have come to San Pedro, too, but she wrote some very sympathetic articles. In fact, she was the only reporter that printed all of Thurgood Marshall's statements.

CRITTENDEN: I don't remember. There might have been. Like I don't remember the lawyer's name. I knew he was a naval officer, and I knew then it wasn't...you know, I knew he was a naval officer, but it was not -- .

ALLEN: You didn't actually meet him at the trial though?



ALLEN: Thurgood Marshall.

CRITTENDEN: Yeah, No -- not to talk. At the end of the trial, at the end of the session, we were together, the fifty of us and Marshall. I don't know if this lawyer was there or not. I don't think he was. Seems to me if I reflect a little bit, he just kind of stepped out -- something. But we were in a room, just us -- this is why he made the statement, "Why didn't we contact the NAACP, why we didn't let them know, can't we see that we're being railroaded, can't we see that we're being made examples of and all this kind of thing." We didn't know that we could do this. We didn't know that we could contact anybody. We didn't -- just kind of like, put you some place and you don't know what you can do. You know, we were weak. We were in prison. We didn't know to contact Marshall, no 71:00other Marshall to be frank. But he was there. He came to the trial and stayed long enough to find out what was going on. He stayed long enough to know that we were going to be found guilty, and that was about the first. I don't know how many days, but the trial last fifteen to sixteen days after he's gone. After he left.

ALLEN: Yeah. He came in the middle of it.

CRITTENDEN: And stayed three or four days.

ALLEN: So then after the trial, when you were found guilty and your sentences, you were sent down to San Pedro. And you were there for about what -- a year?

CRITTENDEN: No. My name was Crittenden and I came out -- they let us out alphabetically. That was one time fortunate that my last name was C, I didn't have to stay as long as the W's and the S's, T's, and Z's, you know. Like Small, I'll say. He was the last bunch to get out.

ALLEN: Yeah. Sheppard was in there, twenty-two months he said.

CRITTENDEN: Yeah, right. And they had to find places to send them so they would 72:00be anywhere near the other three or the other fifty.

ALLEN: And they shipped you out overseas immediately then? You went to the Philippines?

CRITTENDEN: I went to the Philippines aboard a landing craft tanker; the most enjoyable part of the Navy was when I was there. At that point, I began doing seaman duty, really. I couldn't make a rank, though. I was Seaman Deuce. I came out Seaman Deuce. This is a point in my Navy experience where if I hadn't had that kind of record, I could have end up anything. I could have been a chief petty officer, because this commanding officer, he had all the confidence -- he told me I was the best whatever-it-was at that point, handling the ship. I could do it better than anyone else. I remember distinctly I could handle radio, like calling in, and reporting this, and the other. And a lot of confidence in me in 73:00handling that kind of thing. This was a landing craft tanker. You know, it was no big ship. Let's see -- Dixon was on that ship with me.

ALLEN: Julius Dixson?


ALLEN: That's right. There was another Dixon.

CRITTENDEN: From New York. One was D-i-x-o-n and the other was D-i-x-s-o-n.

ALLEN: D-i-x-s-o-n is the guy from Charleston.

CRITTENDEN: Well, D-i-x-o-n, he was with me aboard ship, because there was just the two of us. And he teamed up with some guy. I mean like a friend, we were. We were of the same -- we came out of the same shell. Like, we both was black, we both had been to Port Chicago, and we both had been to prison -- and all this kind of thing. But when we got aboard ship, he drifted over to a white boy, and I drifted over to another white boy. I drifted over to Fred Phillips from Chicago. We became buddies. I used to cut his hair and he'd cut mine. I did a better job on his than he did on mine. [laughs] But anyway, he took up with a 74:00guy seem to me, oughta been from Minnesota, or Wisconsin, or somewhere in that area. But they became buddies, and I don't know what happened. I've never seen Dixon anymore. I don't know what happened to him. I know his home in New York.

ALLEN: I haven't been able to find him yet. But you know a couple of old fellows told me what you just said -- which is that you had to go through this whole experience to finally get to sea, or to do the job that you thought you were going to be doing in the Navy. And it was also at that point that you were treated with respect. And the whole Port Chicago experience was like, just an incredible, horrible nightmare.

CRITTENDEN: It was. No doubt about it.

ALLEN: But finally when you get overseas that's when --

CRITTENDEN: The results of -- well, I'll say this much: that I had an enjoyable year on probation. I didn't have no reason to tear my probation. I was aboard a 75:00small ship, with a small crew. I was not a cook on the ship. You know what I'm talking about? I was a seaman. I did seaman duty. And as far as my commanding officer was concerned, he led me to believe that I was the best seaman aboard the ship. And if it was any way -- I remember him distinctly telling me that's all he could do. He even recommended me for seaman first. And was hopeful that I could get it, you know; but I was turned down at the flagship because the man looked at my record and saw where I'd been, and this and the other. As a result of that experience, I mean, that was the only thing that I could say that was enjoyable as far as the Navy was concerned. And then my GI bill. {inaudible} suffer from all the suffering and it was scary. Hardships --

ALLEN: When you got out then you came here to Montgomery or --


CRITTENDEN: No. Went back home, finished high school, went to college.

ALLEN: Where did you go to college?

CRITTENDEN: Right here.

ALLEN: You've been here ever since? And you haven't had any contact with any of the other guys except --

CRITTENDEN: No, no more than the police. That was the only one.

ALLEN: What about Benton Dees?

CRITTENDEN: Yeah. I've been in contact with Dees. Yeah, I found Dees, I found him --

ALLEN: Is he still there?

CRITTENDEN: Yeah. He should be right there. But Dees isn't the kind of person that -- well, I'm not taking anything away from Dees now. His name is --

ALLEN: B-e-n-n-o-n D-e-e-s, right?

CRITTENDEN: No. Benton. B-e-n-t-o-n. Dees. D-e-e-s. He had a twin brother. He was the oldest of the twins. They was going to draft one of them. And he decided 77:00he would come. Dees is the kind of person right now, even though years and years, I guess Dees is still living. I have a brother who lives in Huntsville, and when I went to Huntsville, I found Dees at A&M College working there as a janitor or something. A&M College in Huntsville. I got a chance to talk to him. He was working there, and seem to me at the bus station.

ALLEN: Well, I won't be able to do it this trip. But next time I come. In fact, it's 9:30 how far are we from the airport.

CRITTENDEN: Right here.

ALLEN: I have 10:00 flight. I wish I had more time.

CRITTENDEN: I hope I've helped you.


ALLEN: Yes. Greatly. Greatly. What I wanted to say --

CRITTENDEN: Others had the same kind, some of the guys you talked with.

ALLEN: Well, yeah. You all went through the same thing. Each one sees it a little bit different perspective, because you weren't all in the same divisions. You weren't all there at the same time. For example, Sheppard arrived only a month before the explosion, whereas you and Small were there almost half a year beforehand, so, you have a lot more in-depth understanding of what was going on there.

CRITTENDEN: Dixon was too. Should have been there a good little bit. Julius. Names like Knox, I remember that name, someone from Nashville Tennessee. He's not living any longer, because he was about thirty-five at that point. I started 79:00to say, "I guess I'm the only person." I don't think I am the only person, 'cause the other day I got a call and I thought it was -- I got a call from a guy in New York. His name is Willy Gay.

ALLEN: Gay! He was one of the men. Yeah.

CRITTENDEN: And I asked him -- and he called me. I came home, and my wife said, "Some guy called you from New York, and said his name is Willy Jay." I said, "Jay? I don't know no Willy Jay." She said, "well, this man said he know you." So then I called him, you know. And she said, "He'd gone through the Red Cross, or some way, to get in touch with you." I said, "Well, if this man want to get in touch with me that bad, I better call and see who the hell it is." I returned the call and paid for it. And I said, well when he answered the phone, I couldn't get his voice, you know. But this was a case where this guy liked me. He was at Port Chicago. My sister at the time was in college at A&M, and I had 80:00-- you know, kind of sending her money. Trying to take a load off my daddy. We didn't have much money, but I sent her a little bit. And Gay fell in love with my sister through me, and was sending her stamps -- you know what I'm talking about. So, I didn't remember. But hell, I don't know if Gay went to prison or not.

ALLEN: Yeah. He did.

CRITTENDEN: Well anyway, that guy called me! I mean, this week Gay called me, and when I came here, he said, "This is Willy Gay." I said, "How do you spell your last name?" He said, "G-a-y." I said, "Oh, heck, my wife got Jay down here." "I said Willy Gay." But I've seen him since then. I saw him in Birmingham football game, I think he or his wife is from Birmingham. But anyways, he told me, he said, "Jack, I was just thinking about you, and I've been thinking about 81:00you for "x" number of days. I just got the Red Cross to get in touch and see if they can find out where you are." I said, "Hey man, this is beautiful. Man, I really appreciate that."

ALLEN: The Red Cross. I've got to keep that in mind.

CRITTENDEN: That's how he found out where I was. Phone number and all.

ALLEN: Do you still have his number?


ALLEN: I'd appreciate if I could get it 'cause I'd like to --

CRITTENDEN: Yeah. His phone number you talking about?

ALLEN: Yeah, or address, or whatever you got.

CRITTENDEN: Talking with that guy, I said -- I asked him, "Hey, anybody contact you from Port Chicago, give you a call?" He said, "No." He said, "I've been thinking about you Jack. How's Annie Laurie?" Man, I said, "Man, listen; my sister got four kids, three boys -- " went on and told him about them. But he sure did talk with me. But what I'm about to say --


ALLEN: This address is not familiar. I don't think I've sent him anything at that address. But Sheppard is in New York, and Sheppard says that he occasionally runs into some of the guys, even though he doesn't have the addresses. But he said he didn't talk to anybody.

CRITTENDEN: But who remember my name?

ALLEN: Who remembers your name? Small remembers your name. I think Waldrop too. Course, I didn't talk to Dixson. Sheppard, I didn't ask him.

CRITTENDEN: You didn't talk to Dixson?

ALLEN: Julius Dixon, no. Well, I talked to him on the phone, and I was going to make the appointment. But then, remember, he didn't -- I never got to talk to him.

[End of Interview]