Effort to publicize worst home disaster of WWII that shed light on segregation of armed forces

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An evening crew of bustling sailors had taken over loading munitions at Port Chicago Naval Magazine on July 17, 1944 -- a night like most others at the Suisun Bay pier during World War II.

At a barracks half a mile away, 20-year-old Irvin Lowery was relaxing with friends just after 10 p.m. when reverberations from a massive explosion shattered his windows and sent him flying across his room. The blast, the largest stateside disaster during the war, killed 320 people -- 202 of them black -- and catalyzed military desegregation by drawing attention to race-based assignments. Lowery, a specialist A first class, spent the next two days collecting body parts of the bowlers and basketball players he worked with as a physical instructor on the recreation staff.

Now 83, Lowery hopes a new bill could help to preserve the Port Chicago story by increasing the public's access to the site and making it easier to pursue funding for an information center there.

Among the tales he wants told is the public outcry that followed the courts-martial of 50 black ammunition loaders, who were charged with mutiny for refusing to return to the same work conditions. In general, the loaders were black men who worked under the supervision of white officers and had little training in how to handle heavy munitions. ...

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