96th Infantry Division Deadeyes Asssociation

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 The Big Bang


   Camp Stoneman was the 96th Division POE (Port Of Embarkation).  As was the custom, quarantine was placed on units that were scheduled to embark on overseas duty.

   Quarantine meant absolute secrecy regarding our movement and our location.  This precluded any passes or telephone calls, and our letter writing was strictly censored.  As far as the world was concerned, we were simply vanished from the earth.

    On July 11, 1944, at 10:17 pm. I noticed a beautiful fireworks display out of the north window.  I called Silva?s attention to it and we both wondered why such a beautiful display two weeks after the 4th of July.  Moments later we found out!  A shock wave struck the barracks that broke the windows and knocked occupants out of their bunks.  While we were speculating about what had happened, whistles blew informing us to fall out in ten minutes with combat packs.  We boarded trucks, and learned that our mission was to report to Port Chicago for guard duty.

   A gigantic explosion had engulfed two transport ships nearly completely loaded with ammunition that included artillery shells, mortar shells and a huge amount of TNT.  The explosion could be seen in San Francisco, 35 miles away.  The town of Port Chicago was devastated and some 322 sailors were killed instantly.

   We dismounted the trucks by the destroyed movie theater and awaited orders.  There were dead bodies all over the place.  Soon a general arrived asking, *What unit??  When informed we were the 96th Division, he became very upset and announced that we were under secret orders and to return to camp immediately.

  Of course, the rumor mill began to turn.  The favorite was that since our ammo ships exploded, our embarkation would be cancelled or delayed.  This proved incorrect.  We boarded the USAT, Sea Sturgeon, on July 28 1944, at Pier 28 in San Francisco and departed for overseas.