Joe Small | Interview 4 | October 10, 1985

Oral History Center, UC Berkeley

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0:00 - Recalling an incident with school bully in 1937 and describing leaving public schooling/ Memories from being drafted in 1943 from New Brunswick, New Jersey

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Keywords: 1937; education; middle school; Navy; New Brunswick, New Jersey; training

Subjects: Community and Identity Education, University of California Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

5:48 - Describing Navy training and race relations within the training camp

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Keywords: Camp Robert Smalls; marines; Naval Station Great Lakes; Navy; race relations; racial composition; racial conflict; seaman; seaman first class; segregation

Subjects: Community and Identity Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

9:12 - Arriving at Port Chicago and describing impressions of the other soldiers and ranks

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Keywords: divisions; job description; Navy; Port Chicago Naval Magazine; rank; reflection; seaman first class

Subjects: Community and Identity Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

12:54 - Describing his barracks and daily routines and interactions while at Port Chicago

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Keywords: barracks; divisions; mess hall; Port Chicago Naval Magazine; race; racial composition; winch

Subjects: Community and Identity Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

19:51 - Recalling events from his perspective on the morning of July 17th, 1944

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Keywords: 1944; explosion; job description; Port Chicago Explosion; Port Chicago Naval Magazine; SS Mormactern; The Bryan; winch

Subjects: Community and Identity Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

23:23 - Continuation of events on July 17, 1944

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Keywords: 1944; job description; military leave and liberty; Port Chicago Explosion; Port Chicago Naval Magazine; reflection; SS Mormactern; The Bryan


29:17 - Continuation of events on July 17, 1944

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Keywords: 1944; explosion; job description; Lieutenant Ernest Delucci; military leave & liberty; Port Chicago Explosion; Port Chicago Naval Magazine; reflection; SS Mormactern; The Bryan

Subjects: Community and Identity Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

36:22 - Reflecting on time at Mare Island Naval Shipyard and time in confinement following a refusal to return to service

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Keywords: barge; barracks; Charles Grey; Kaiser Shipyard; Mare Island Naval Shipyard; Port Chicago Explosion; San Pedro, California; segregation; Vallejo, California; Wideman

Subjects: Community and Identity Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front


ALLEN: Hello, today is Thursday October tenth, Robert Allen interviewing Joseph R. Small concerning Port Chicago disaster of 1944. Well there are a couple of things I just want to go back to, couple of background questions, and then questions about the day itself. One was, before, we never talked about your schooling. Maybe just tell me a little bit about your --

SMALL: As far as the Navy is concerned?

ALLEN: No, before you went into the Navy.

SMALL: [laughs] Well, my schooling consisted of seven years of public school. And I didn't complete the seventh grade. I was asked to withdraw from school in 1:00September of 1937. At that time I was sixteen years old and there were really two reasons: my father wanted me home to work on the farm, and I had settled accounts with a boy that had been pestering me for the whole previous school year. He had been calling me "smokey" and I had promised that I would rectify the situation at the first opportunity. And it didn't present itself until we returned to school in September of 1937 and he called me "smokey" and his big cousin wasn't with him. And I put a good whipping on him. So they asked me to -- they gave me an alternative, either you leave school or you're going to be sent to the reform school. So I left school.


ALLEN: This was a white kid?

SMALL: This was a white kid, yes. And they were both named Andy Naggy. They were first cousins, but one was six foot two and weighed over 200 pounds and the other one was my size, which was about 165 pounds, five foot eight. And every time he called me "smokey," he would run and get behind his cousin. But I promised him one day that I would catch him when his cousin wasn't with him, and I did. And that ended my formal education.

ALLEN: Where was this? What school was it?

SMALL: Well at that time it was the junior high school in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Now it's called an intermediate school, or middle school, but at that time it was junior high. And that was the extent of my formal education.

ALLEN: Okay. You were drafted in 1943 so your family was living in New Brunswick 3:00at that time.

SMALL: Yes, we were living in New Brunswick.

ALLEN: Okay so you were drafted into the New Brunswick induction station, wherever that was.

SMALL: No. Well, I was drafted from New Brunswick, but the induction station was in Newark. We had to go to Newark for our examination and we were shipped out of Newark to Great Lakes, Illinois.

ALLEN: So you went directly to Great Lakes.

SMALL: Directly to the Great Lakes.

ALLEN: What month were you drafted in?

SMALL: July. We arrived in Great Lakes, Illinois the morning of July 4, 1943.

ALLEN: And you were there for six weeks training?

SMALL: Uh, no, well we were there for more than six weeks. I think it was about thirteen weeks all together. I forget now exactly how long it was, but we took our basic training in Great Lakes which was a seaman branch, they trained 4:00seaman. They had different training facilities throughout the country, where seaman and different job qualifications, you know, electricians, signal men, cooks and bakers and what have you. All or most of the seamen graduated or went through Great Lakes, Illinois.

ALLEN: What was the basic nature of the training there?

SMALL: It was just military, I don't know -- acquaintanceship I guess, to acquaint you with the military rules and regulations. There was no skill training of any kind. We weren't trained in any particular skill. We weren't taught to tie knots, which is a basic skill for a seaman. We weren't taught to handle a ship, we weren't taught to read a compass or read a sextant; we weren't 5:00taught anything, just the basic military drills. It was mostly a physical buildup more than anything else.

ALLEN: And there was no training with weapons, is that correct?

SMALL: No, no training with weapons.

ALLEN: No training in actual seamanship either?

SMALL: No, no training in actual seamanship.

ALLEN: And no training with ammunition?

SMALL: No, none. The weapons we carried were dummies -- dummy rifles. And they were just a show for guard duty, things like that, or parade work. It was a dummy rifle. We had no live ammunition, no real ammunition, no real weapons of any kind.

ALLEN: Is there anything about that training that stands out particularly in your mind? Any incident, anything that happened, any impression about it that still sticks with you, stands out?

SMALL: No, I mean, not where the Navy is concerned. I mean I had to -- how shall 6:00I say it -- to make a slot for myself as far as being a man was concerned. But it had nothing to do with the Navy; this was among the recruits that I was with. You see what I mean? I had to assert myself on several occasions to ward off hostilities that were directed toward me, you see what I mean? But this had nothing to do with the Navy.

ALLEN: Was this problem in particular with the northern guys or southern guys?

SMALL: Well no, not necessarily. We were all black in the first place. We went through Camp Robert Small in Great Lakes, Illinois, and that was all black. We had white officers. I think we had black petty officers; anything above petty 7:00officer was white. It was just a general class of fella -- it wasn't particularly northern or southern because they were all black. There was no race conflict because there was no one there to fight with. We had a mess hall, we went to the mess hall with white companies. They sat in their section and we sat in our section, but that was mostly a self-implied thing, you know; we sat with those that we knew. You know what I mean? There was no segregation as such in the mess hall, or in the movies, or in the recreational facilities; there was no segregation as such, but we segregated ourselves by sticking with our own. You 8:00see what I mean? There was very little racial conflict. The most racial conflict we had was with the MPs [Military Police] and they were mostly southern Marines. And we had a problem with them, but other than that, we didn't have any racial problems.

ALLEN: Now what was your rating when you came out of Great Lakes?

SMALL: Apprentice seaman.

ALLEN: Apprentice seaman, okay. And you went directly to Port Chicago, which would have been -- what month or year was that?

SMALL: Now that I don't remember. I've tried to remember what month we left. Now, wait a minute, I came home on leave. I came home on leave and went back and then we were shipped from there to Port Chicago. I think it was in September.

ALLEN: Must have been August or September then --

SMALL: It was in September or October. I can't remember exactly when it was, but it was the early part of the winter, or the weather was just breaking. And it was either September or October. I don't remember exactly what month it was.


ALLEN: Okay. Now, when you arrived in Port Chicago, you eventually were assigned to Fourth Division, were you with them from the beginning? Under [Ernest] Delucchi?


ALLEN: So that was your original division.

SMALL: That was my original division at Port Chicago, yes.

ALLEN: And you were an apprentice seaman when you arrived, when did you make seaman first class?

SMALL: I think it was mostly when you came out of boot camp, you came out as apprentice seaman, but when you were assigned to duty, you went in as seaman second class. And then after a certain period of time, you was up to seaman first class. From then on you had to earn your rate. But the advancement to seaman first class was mostly automatic.

ALLEN: Okay. But by July 1944 you were seaman first class.



ALLEN: Okay. Well I wanted to ask more specifically about the day, July seventeenth. But maybe before that, we've talked in general about your impressions of the base and the conditions there, we talked about that before. I was wondering about your impressions of the other black enlisted men. Was there anything in particular that stands out in your mind, any memories, any friends, friendships you made?

SMALL: Well there was a few outstanding characters that I can remember. There was one that had been trying to get out of the Navy ever since he got drafted and came through Robert Small. Now he didn't come through the same division I did at Robert Small, but I forget his name, too. But he worked diligently to try 11:00to get some kind of a discharge. He didn't care if it was a section eight or a BCD [Bad Conduct Discharge] or dishonorable, he didn't care what it was, just so he got out.

ALLEN: Is this the guy who was the homosexual?

SMALL: No. This was the guy that pitched horseshoes before daylight every morning. I think I mentioned that before. He used to get up and get out of his bed, and urinate in bed, and then hang his sneakers around his neck, and go outside and pitch horseshoes. The horseshoes stayed right outside the barracks. And we would hear this "clink-clink, clink-clink." And he would be outside pitching horseshoes, daylight in the morning. And he was trying his best to get discharged from the service, and because he tried so hard they just wouldn't discharge him, wouldn't let him go. And then there was another one, his name was Wideman. I remember him. He was a practical joker. There were several others. 12:00Slick Miller. Slick Miller was one. He was one of the older fellas. And he had much more experience than the average seaman there. And he used to take us around Frisco [San Francisco] and other places where we would go. He was the kind of guy that was always looking for an easy way to make money. He didn't care who he cheated or how he got it, you know. But we followed him because he was one of the older fellas and he knew his way around. But there wasn't anybody that made any outstanding acts of any kind that would burn into my memory.

ALLEN: What barracks were you in, do you remember?

SMALL: I think we were in barracks two. But they didn't refer to us by the 13:00barracks, they called us by the division.

ALLEN: Was there one division per barracks or how did they break down?

SMALL: There was usually two divisions per barrack, first and second floor.

ALLEN: One on each floor.

SMALL: Yeah, one on each floor.

ALLEN: That means there's one-hundred and twenty-five men on each floor.

SMALL: Yeah. Because when they called us -- they say, for instance, "Joseph Small, Seaman First Class, Fourth Division." See? And that's the way they recognize us. When they played the PA system, it broadcast over the whole base. So anything that was said over that PA system, anybody on the base could hear it. So it was up to you to hear what was intended for you regardless of where you were.

ALLEN: Okay. You were on the second floor?

SMALL: No, I was on the first floor.


ALLEN: You were on the first floor. Okay, so, Fourth Division was on the first floor, what division was above you?

SMALL: Third Division.

ALLEN: Third Division, these are the guys who worked on the ship that was lost.

SMALL: Yes, I think they were on duty. They were on duty when the ship was destroyed because I think they went on -- we came off the first shift, which was, I think, 3:30 or 4:00. And they went on.

ALLEN: So you knew these guys?

SMALL: Not personally, we didn't mingle inter-divisional. Now we were mostly concerned with the fellas we worked with, you know what I mean? We would see -- maybe I knew a fella in the Third Division, you know, maybe I met him on the beach, and we talked, or we had a beer together. But very few, I couldn't recall a name --


ALLEN: No one you personally knew in that position. Okay. The day itself, July seventeenth, now that's the day of the explosion, I want to just have a look at the chronology we list on that date. First of all, what was the customary wake-up time?

SMALL: Well, we were reveille sounded at 6:00 and chow time was 7:00.

ALLEN: How was reveille sounded?

SMALL: Over the PA system. Somebody blew a trumpet.

ALLEN: Somebody blew a trumpet over the --

SMALL: Over the PA system. At 6:00. And then we mustered at 6:45 and chow was 7:00.

ALLEN: Okay, now, you woke the men up, you said.

SMALL: Yeah, some of them, yeah, yeah.

ALLEN: And you got up yourself. You were in the upper bunk.

SMALL: That's right, I was in the top bunk.

ALLEN: Top bunk. Who was below you?

SMALL: I don't remember.


ALLEN: Okay, but you were in the top bunk. You get up, dress, and wake those who still hadn't -- how'd you wake them?

SMALL: Well I'd go there and shake them and say let's go fellas, it's time, you know. Sometimes I use derogatory statements, you know, but I was never rough with them. I never rode them out of the bunk. This is what they couldn't tolerate with the petty officers.

ALLEN: They would actually throw them out of the bunk.

SMALL: Yeah, the petty officers would grab their mattress and roll them right out of the bunk, you know. And I would just shake them gently and tell them to get up and most of them were very cooperative. Most of them were awake anyhow, they were just laying there.

ALLEN: So you're getting up and getting dressed -- you got some bathroom, toilet facilities there. How was that handled? You got one hundred and twenty five men you're trying to get through --

SMALL: First come, first serve.

ALLEN: Basically line up --

SMALL: Well, we had, if I remember, we had ten commodes in there and seven or 17:00eight urinals. And we had all of ten or twelve wash basins. And we really never had our showers, we had I think six showers. So we really never had a conflict. If you go in there and it was busy you just waited until somebody came out and then you went in.

ALLEN: These are all out in one of the barracks, right? The sleeping quarters are basically one large room.

SMALL: That's right.

ALLEN: And then the petty officers, where were they?

SMALL: They were between the washrooms and the seamen's quarters. In other words, when you come out of the seamen's quarters, double-doors, when you came out there were two rooms on each side which was petty officers' rooms. And then beyond that were the showers and the toilets.

ALLEN: How many petty officers were there for your division?


SMALL: There were two.

ALLEN: And they had private, separate rooms?

SMALL: They had separate, private rooms, yes.

ALLEN: Okay. What were the names off-hand? I think I can get it from the record.

SMALL: No idea.

ALLEN: Okay so at 6:45, you muster. Where? In the barracks, in front of the barracks?

SMALL: No, in front of the barracks, in the street.

ALLEN: In ranks.

SMALL: In ranks.

ALLEN: Okay and at that point the lieutenant hasn't shown up yet. Who mustered you?

SMALL: The petty officer mustered us.

ALLEN: The lieutenant is not present.

SMALL: Sometimes he was, and sometimes he wasn't. Now, I do remember him being there on several occasions, but I don't think he was commanded to be there and muster. Because we went from muster to the mess hell.

ALLEN: Okay. You marched to the mess hall.


ALLEN: Was that very nearby or -- ?

SMALL: It was about, I would say half a block away at least.


ALLEN: And you have chow at about 7:00.

SMALL: Chow about 7:00.

ALLEN: What's the typical breakfast like?

SMALL: Well, it was usually bacon and eggs, fried eggs and bacon and toast and home fried potatoes. It was a typical breakfast. You had a choice of milk or coffee or tea. A few beverages. And sometime they had pancakes, syrup and butter and sausage. It was a typical breakfast. You had one meat and then something to go with it, eggs or pancakes, or French toast.

ALLEN: What was the day like, do you remember, that day, July seventeenth?

SMALL: Well, we had worked that day. The weather was beautiful.


ALLEN: It was a clear day.

SMALL: It was clear day. I remember that because I was a winch operator. And it was a clear day and that day I was running electric winches; the ship I worked on had electric winches.

ALLEN: This is the [SS] Mormactern.

SMALL: Yes and I was very proud of those electric winches, they were so much easier to handle than steam winches.

ALLEN: Yeah.

SMALL: And it was just like any other day, we had a tonnage quota. I don't know whether we got it or not because we never heard the results of our day's work. Only that we were so far behind the other divisions that we were awarded some kind of punishment for it. But if we excelled, we never heard anything about it.

ALLEN: When you left chow and went down to the pier, how did you get down to the pier?

SMALL: They had what we call cattle cars. They were trailers, pulled by a 21:00tractor, and they had long benches in there, three benches: one on each side, and one in the middle. And the cattle car usually carried about -- between sixty and eighty men. And we just loaded up the cattle car and took off.

ALLEN: You'd be there at 8:00. At work at 8:00.

SMALL: Yes, you'd be there at 8:00.

ALLEN: How did one division replace the other? What was the process? You -- down there men work on a twenty-four hour, around the clock shift, so when you arrive, there's another division coming off.

SMALL: That's right.

ALLEN: How did that actually work?

SMALL: One man just took over where another man left off. You quit, the whistle blew, and you quit and another man started.

ALLEN: Okay so they didn't muster the division that was coming off and then take them all away and have you come on.

SMALL: No, no.


ALLEN: You actually had a one-for-one --

SMALL: It's straight off. The division coming on arrived at the parking lot and then mustered in the parking lot after they got off the cattle carts. And marched to the dock. And down the dock. They usually arrived at the dock one or two minutes prior to their work time. And when the whistle blew, we quit, and they went to work. And many times I passed my relief operator, I was coming down a gangplank and he was going up. And sometimes he would be standing there waiting for the whistle to blow for me to quit. You see what I mean?

ALLEN: So you knew the guy who was your relief then.

SMALL: No, I didn't know him personally, I just knew he was my relief on that winch, you see what I mean. And on hole two or hole one or hole three, or whatever hole it was, I knew by him standing there, that he was the winch 23:00operator. And if I passed him coming up the gangplank I didn't know who he was. Because a lot of the fellas coming up the gangplank were right on down in the hole, they were material handlers, you know, or they were carpenters, or something down in the hole of the ship. So if I didn't actually see the man at the winch controller, I didn't know who he was.

ALLEN: Okay. So that day you arrive at 8:00, you go to work and you're working on the Mormactern.

SMALL: Yeah.

ALLEN: You worked on the Mormactern before. And she'd been in there -- in fact, she sailed that day. So she must have been there for --

SMALL: There was two, the Mormactern -- and, was it the Bryan?

ALLEN: The [SS E.A.] Bryan. The Bryan was just about loaded, too. But --

SMALL: I don't remember whether it was the Mormactern or the Bryan. I think the Bryan was loaded and ready to go to sea. And we were working on the Mormactern. 24:00It had only been in about three days.

ALLEN: Well according to the records, both of them were pretty well loaded, but the Mormactern, you finished the Mormactern and in fact it sailed somewhere between one and 2:00.

SMALL: Well then what was the other ship that blew up?

ALLEN: The Bryan. The Bryan was the other one and it was still being loaded, it was due to sail in a few days.

SMALL: Alright, but there was two ships docked there at the time of the explosion.

ALLEN: Oh that night, another ship called the [SS] Quinault Victory, came in at about 6:00.

SMALL: Oh that's the one.

ALLEN: It was a new ship. They had just started reading it and it was empty.

SMALL: We were working on the Mormactern, that's right, that's right.

ALLEN: There were two ships that blew up. The Mormactern sailed that afternoon. You finished loading it and it sailed. It was still loading the Bryan and then this other one came in at six.

SMALL: That's right because, when we left the dock that afternoon, the other side was empty. There was no ship there. There was no ship there, the Bryan was gone.


ALLEN: No, the Bryan was still there. That's the one that blew up. The Mormactern was the one that sailed.

SMALL: The Mormactern was the one -- then we were working on the Bryan then. If the Mormactern sailed, she was loaded.

ALLEN: Well, that's what I wanted to clear up, because according to the records I've seen, the Fourth Division worked on the Mormactern, finished loading the Mormactern, and she sailed at about somewhere between 1:00 and 2:00. And then another ship came and -- not until 6:00, though. The Quinault Victory. And they started working on it. Meanwhile the Bryan was there the whole time and was being loaded.

SMALL: That means we quit work early that day and I don't remember that. I don't remember that, I don't remember quitting work early that day. The explosion was 26:00around twenty minutes after 10:00 that night. I don't remember quitting work early that day.

ALLEN: Well in other situations when a ship finished loading in the middle of a shift, what would they do? Do you continue working on the pier or do you just quit work?

SMALL: Well we didn't quit work, that is definite -- we must have been policing the pier or we went to work, we went on the other ship helping load the other ship. We may have went to work on the other ship because now, I know the ship I was working on going down the docks, the ship I was working on was on the right hand side. The ship that sailed was on the left hand side going down the dock. 27:00And both ships was headed back this way, in other words when we came down the dock we approached the ship from the bow head.

ALLEN: Yeah, right.

SMALL: Now, I don't remember which ship was on the right hand side of the dock. I don't know which ship it was. It must have been the Mormactern, though. Because I remember the Mormactern and the Bryan. The Quinault Victory, I don't remember that --

ALLEN: You wouldn't have even seen it.

SMALL: No. Because that came in that night, that's the one I didn't remember, but I remember the Mormactern and the Bryan.

ALLEN: Okay.

SMALL: And the Mormactern was the one that sailed.

ALLEN: Right. So it was on the --

SMALL: If we were working the ship on the right hand side of the dock. So that must have been the Mormactern, so the Bryan sailed from the seaward side of the 28:00dock. When you walk down the dock this way, the sea was on the left hand side, right. And then the ship on the right hand side was inland, it was the inland side of the dock and the ship on the left hand side was on the seaward side of the dock, or on the pier rather. We were working on the right hand side of the pier, on the ship inside of the pier. That was the Mormactern because the Bryan sailed from the seaward side of the pier.

ALLEN: Okay. Somewhere I have a diagram of where the ships were placed, I'll look at that and see where the Quinault Victory was and that must be where the Mormactern was. The ship that sailed was the Mormactern because the Bryan was the one that blew up.

SMALL: Alright, so the Mormactern sailed from the inland side of the dock, 29:00that's right.

ALLEN: The Quinault Victory must have come in and replaced it --

SMALL: Yeah, the Quinault Victory came around from the {seawhich?} side and came inland side of the dock. It had to be.

ALLEN: Okay.

SMALL: I have to sit down and take my mind over that forty years ago. There's a lot of remembering to do, but there's documents and things that were buried up in here.

ALLEN: So you came off duty. In any case, you worked a full shift, you didn't come off early.

SMALL: We worked a full shift, yes.

ALLEN: Okay because that's what wasn't clear to me, I know this ship had supposedly sailed between one and two and normally you didn't quit work until four.

SMALL: That's right.

ALLEN: So I wasn't clear whether you came off early -- you stayed on -- you did a full shift --

SMALL: No, we did a full shift so we must have either policed the dock or else went to work on the Bryan .


ALLEN: Okay. So you came off duty, off the shift, at 4:00, as usual.

SMALL: Uhuh.

ALLEN: Okay, what was the rest of the day like then until that night?

SMALL: Well we usually went back to the barracks and we did our toilet duties and then went to chock. Chow was at 5:00 or 5:15. They serve chow I think from 5:00 to 6:30. We had any time in there to go after. And then after chow, if we had liberty we went to shore, and if we didn't have liberty we went back to the barracks and amused ourselves in the barracks.

ALLEN: What happened that -- did you have liberty?

SMALL: No, I didn't have liberty.

ALLEN: So you stayed in the barracks.

SMALL: I stayed in the barracks, I stayed in the barracks and I guess I wrote letters, that was my main occupation.

ALLEN: Okay, so you didn't go to Pittsburg then.



ALLEN: Somewhere I had gotten the impression that you actually had liberty that evening and gone over to Pittsburg.

SMALL: I don't think so.

ALLEN: Not the case.

SMALL: I don't think so. I couldn't have went to Pittsburg because if I had had liberty that night, I wouldn't have been on the base at 10:30 when it blew up. You see what I mean. Because when we went on liberty, we usually just did make the last bus from Pittsburg coming back. Because I left at 1:00 and in no way did I go on liberty and come back ahead of time. So if I had went on liberty that night, I wouldn't have been there when the explosion happened.

ALLEN: Well it didn't make sense, when I read it over again, it didn't make sense to me for just that reason. If you had gone on liberty, you wouldn't have come back.

SMALL: No, I wouldn't have been back there by 10:30.


ALLEN: Yeah, something like that. So you must have stayed on base, in the barracks, write letters --

SMALL: I did, I did. I'm almost positive I did because of that fact that if I had went on liberty I wouldn't have been there.

ALLEN: Yeah. Now, lights out was usually, what, 10:00?

SMALL: 10:00.

ALLEN: Okay so everybody was in bed, then, by --

SMALL: Everybody was in bed and well, not necessarily, we didn't have to be in bed, but the lights went out at 10:00. If he wanted to sit around the table, they had a table at one end of the barracks, like a picnic table, there were benches around it. If you wanted to sit at the table and read by a flashlight or something like that, they didn't bother you, but the barrack lights went out at 10:00.

ALLEN: Mhm. And you were actually in bed.

SMALL: I was in bed, yes.

ALLEN: Were you asleep or --

SMALL: No, I wasn't asleep. I heard both explosions. I wasn't asleep, but I didn't know what the first one was. And the second one just disintegrated the 33:00barracks, that's the one that -- that picked me up off the block and I had my mattress like this and I flipped it over and I hit the floor with the mattress on top of me. I remember that specifically. And the glass and the debris and stuff that fell hit the mattress rather than hitting me. And I think I got one little cut of glass, a minor cut, I forget now even where it was. But that's why I escaped injury in the explosion, but the barracks were disintegrated, fellas was cut and bleeding all over the place. God spared me in it.

ALLEN: Mhm. Well after that, after the two blasts, then you come outside and help some of the other men -- .

SMALL: I help some of the other men that were injured, one fella I gave my 34:00shoes, his feet was bleeding, I gave my slippers to him, his feet were bleeding profusely and he couldn't walk, his feet were bleeding so bad, he couldn't walk. There was no medics or anything around. This was about ten or fifteen minutes after the explosion. And there was no medication or anything around, no doctors, nothing. And I gave him my shoes. Another fella, I wrapped his arm. He had a cut all the way down his arm. And I wrapped his arm, I put a tourniquet on it to try to stop it from bleeding, try to control the bleeding. Several fellas I helped out because I wasn't hurt. And, I don't know, that's -- it was chaos, I'll tell you that much.

ALLEN: Where were the petty officers?

SMALL: God only knows. I don't think either one of them was on duty at that 35:00time, I don't think either one of them was there. I don't remember seeing either one of them.

ALLEN: And Delucchi wasn't around either.

SMALL: And Delucchi wasn't around either.

ALLEN: Yeah, he would have been over with the white officers.

SMALL: Yeah.

ALLEN: Did you go down to the pier?

SMALL: No, I never did get down to the pier, they --

ALLEN: So you never saw --

SMALL: Never saw the aftermath of the explosion.

ALLEN: So, okay, explosion is at 10:20. You're helping enginemen for the next, what, when do you actually leave the barracks area and move out?

SMALL: Well I can't say exactly, I'd imagine about a good hour and a half or two hours after the explosion before we were asked to load onto these cattle cars and I think they took us to Vallejo. I even forget that now, where they took us, 36:00from there. It was a good hour and a half or two hours after the explosion before we were moved out.

ALLEN: Okay. And you never came back to Port Chicago after that, is that correct?

SMALL: I did return, but that was oh years later.

ALLEN: No, I mean within the next -- before the time of the worst times. Okay, so you get moved out to the other base and you're there up until August ninth, I think. What kind of duty did you have in that period?

SMALL: None.

ALLEN: There was no ship loading, so what was going on?

SMALL: None, we had no duties whatsoever.

ALLEN: How'd you spend your day?

SMALL: Our time was free, we couldn't go off the base. We were confined to the base, but our time, we had no duties whatsoever, nothing to do. Nothing 37:00whatsoever to do.

ALLEN: How did you pass the time?

SMALL: Reading. Writing letters. Talking to each other. Playing cards, playing poker, playing {inaudible}, anything we could do to pass the time.

ALLEN: But you were confined to the base.

SMALL: We were confined to the base, yes.

ALLEN: Did you have any expectations you were going to be sent back to ammunition loading? What was the general expectation?

SMALL: Well we expected to be, to have to return to duty because that was the only thing we knew to do. And since we weren't qualified seamen we had no expectations about going to sea, you know. We weren't cooks, we weren't bakers, we weren't stewards, the only thing we knew was handling ammunition. And we 38:00fully expected to be asked to go back to the same work. And the men had made up their mind themselves that they weren't going to do it. That was the general situation. They got me involved in it only because the officer directed his question to me. If he had not called any particular name, I would never have been involved in it in that respect. But he said, "Small, front and center. Will you return to duty?" And I said, "No." And then someone over in the ranks said, "If Small don't go, we ain't going either." And that put me out in front of it, but had he never directed his question to me, I would have never been involved in it.

ALLEN: After that happened -- okay, and then all the men are taken over to the 39:00barge and kept on the barge for several days. Then later that's the interrogation, where they bring each man in and talk to them, and ask them about what happened and so forth. And then later that's the men are held in imprisonment before the trial. You were put in solitary confinement. Do you remember that?

SMALL: Well, I guess you call it solitary confinement, it wasn't all that solitary. I was separated from the other men.

ALLEN: Okay.

SMALL: But I mean, solitary confinement usually brings to mind a dark hole with one little window in it, and, you know, bread and water, it wasn't to that extent. But I was separated from the other men.

ALLEN: What was that like? What was the physical set up there, when you were held before the trial?

SMALL: Well, let me see if I can remember that. I remember being separated from 40:00the men. But I don't remember the layout of the situation. I remember them coming and calling me out, taking me out and putting me in a separate compartment. But I can't recall, I can't get a picture of that compartment, what it was or where it was. Or what it was like. Maybe it'll return to me after I think about it a little bit. I can't get any picture of it, of what it was. I know they accuse me of being the leader of a mutinous assembly. And they separated me from the rest of the men, but how they did it, I don't remember.

ALLEN: Okay. After the trial, and you shipped down to San Pedro, Mare Island 41:00down there, what was that like? What was the physical set up down there, do you remember?

SMALL: It was a communal situation. All of us, well we were mixed with the other men. The fifty of us that were shipped to Mare Island were separated into groups of five or six. Each group was put into different barracks, you see what I mean? So there was five or six of us in with maybe seventy five or eighty other prisoners. See what I mean?

ALLEN: Is this the integrated facility or are these segregated?

SMALL: No, it was segregated. With all blacks. It was integrated later on, some whites came in, but when we first got there, it was all black. This was -- [wife 42:00enters conversation]. There was white fellas in there, they started to come in after we got there. White fellas, they started to move white prisoners in. And they were put in with us, but there was no racial conflict that I can remember between us.

ALLEN: Okay, then at the end of it, when you were shipped out, put on the ship and shipped out, you were shipped out with four or five other men, do you remember who they were? Were they the same men you had been with all along?


SMALL: No They weren't the same men that I was in the barracks with. They were all "PC [Port Chicago] men" as we were referred to. But they weren't the same men that was barracks with me, no.

ALLEN: So that was a different group.

SMALL: It was a different group.

ALLEN: And they were with you throughout their entire time you were in the Pacific.

SMALL: Yeah.

ALLEN: And you all came back together to Seattle.

SMALL: Seattle, Washington, that's right. I don't even remember who they were. Wideman was one of them.

ALLEN: Wideman was one of them! [laughs]

SMALL: Wideman was one of them. I remember Wideman, he was one of them. Charles Grey was another one.

ALLEN: Did Wideman ever straighten up? Straighten out?

SMALL: No, but the last incident we had with Wideman -- let me see if I can get 44:00that straightened out, we were at the old -- we were stationed at the Kaiser shipyard, the old Kaiser shipyard in Vancouver, Washington. And we used to pull liberty in Portland, Oregon. That was just across the line. And something Wideman did, I just can't remember now, but it was concerning a woman. I don't remember exactly -- it'll come back to my memory. He was {inaudible} -- short sheets, one of the later things he did that night was that he put that paper in the heater. That was outstanding, someone may have gotten hurt that night just 45:00because of his practical joke. He tore the door off the back of the barracks and everything just because he wanted to get a laugh.

ALLEN: That was the type of fella he was, you know. Well, okay, thank you very much. As I said, as I get further along with the writing, I may have other questions. Is it alright if I call you?

SMALL: Sure, sure, call me any time. If I can answer them, I will. It's been forty years and sometimes it's pretty hard to go back that --