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Tuesday July 17, 2012
>1944 --- An ammunition ship explodes while being loaded in Port Chicago, California, killing 332 people on this day in 1944. The United States' World War II military campaign in the Pacific was in full swing at the time. Poor procedures and lack of training led to the disaster. Port Chicago, about 30 miles north of San Francisco, was developed into a munitions facility when the Naval Ammunition Depot at Mare Island, California, could not fully supply the war effort. By the summer of 1944, expansion of the Port Chicago facility allowed for loading two ships at once around the clock. The Navy units assigned to the dangerous loading operations were generally segregated African-American units. For the most part, these men had not been trained in handling munitions. Additionally, safety standards were forgotten in the rush to keep up frenetic loading schedules. On the evening of July 17, the SS Quinault Victory and SS E.A. Bryan, two merchant ships, were being loaded. The holds were being packed with 4,600 tons of explosives--bombs, depth charges and ammunition. Another 400 tons of explosives were nearby on rail cars. Approximately 320 workers were on or near the pier when, at 10:18 p.m., a series of massive explosions over several seconds destroyed everything and everyone in the vicinity. The blasts were felt as far away as Nevada and the resulting damage extended as far as San Francisco. Every building in Port Chicago was damaged and people were literally knocked off their feet. Smoke and fire extended nearly two miles into the air. The pilot of a plane flying at 9,000 feet in the area claimed that metal chunks from the explosion flew past him. Nearly two-thirds of the people killed at Port Chicago were African-American enlisted men in the Navy--15 percent of all African-Americans killed during World War II. The surviving men in these units, who helped put out the fires and saw the horrors firsthand, were quickly reassigned to Mare Island. Less than a month later, when ordered to load more munitions, but still having received no training, 258 African-American sailors refused to carry out the orders. Two hundred and eight of them were then sentenced to bad conduct discharges and pay forfeiture. The remaining 50 men were put on trial for general court martial. They were sentenced to between eight and 15 years of hard labor, though two years later all were given clemency. A 1994 review of the trials revealed race played a large factor in the harsh sentences. In December 1999, President Clinton pardoned Freddie Meeks, one of only three of the 50 convicted sailors known to be alive at the time. The Port Chicago disaster eventually led to the implementation of far safer procedures for loading ammunition. In addition, greater emphasis was put on proper training in explosives handling and the munitions themselves were altered for greater safety. There is now a national memorial to the victims at the site.
- 1945 --- U.S. President Truman, Soviet leader Josef Stalin and British Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill began meeting at Potsdam in the final Allied summit of World War II. During the meeting Stalin made the comment that "Hitler had escaped."
- 1954 --- The first Newport Jazz Festival was held at the Newport Casino, in Newport, RI.
- 1955 --- Disneyland, Walt Disney's metropolis of nostalgia, fantasy, and futurism, opens on July 17, 1955. The $17 million theme park was built on 160 acres of former orange groves in Anaheim, California, and soon brought in staggering profits. Today, Disneyland hosts more than 14 million visitors a year, who spend close to $3 billion. Walt Disney, born in Chicago in 1901, worked as a commercial artist before setting up a small studio in Los Angeles to produce animated cartoons. In 1928, his short film Steamboat Willy, starring the character "Mickey Mouse," was a national sensation. It was the first animated film to use sound, and Disney provided the voice for Mickey. From there on, Disney cartoons were in heavy demand, but the company struggled financially because of Disney's insistence on ever-improving artistic and technical quality. His first feature-length cartoon, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1938), took three years to complete and was a great commercial success. Snow White was followed by other feature-length classics for children, such as Pinocchio (1940), Dumbo (1941), and Bambi (1942). Fantasia (1940), which coordinated animated segments with famous classical music pieces, was an artistic and technical achievement. In Song of the South (1946), Disney combined live actors with animated figures, and beginning with Treasure Island in 1950 the company added live-action movies to its repertoire. Disney was also one of the first movie studios to produce film directly for television, and its Zorro and Davy Crockett series were very popular with children. In the early 1950s, Walt Disney began designing a huge amusement park to be built near Los Angeles. He intended Disneyland to have educational as well as amusement value and to entertain adults and their children. Land was bought in the farming community of Anaheim, about 25 miles southeast of Los Angeles, and construction began in 1954. In the summer of 1955, special invitations were sent out for the opening of Disneyland on July 17. Unfortunately, the pass was counterfeited and thousands of uninvited people were admitted into Disneyland on opening day. The park was not ready for the public: food and drink ran out, a women's high-heel shoe got stuck in the wet asphalt of Main Street USA, and the Mark Twain Steamboat nearly capsized from too many passengers. Disneyland soon recovered, however, and attractions such as the Castle, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Snow White's Adventures, Space Station X-1, Jungle Cruise, and Stage Coach drew countless children and their parents. Special events and the continual building of new state-of-the-art attractions encouraged them to visit again. In 1965, work began on an even bigger Disney theme park and resort near Orlando, Florida. Walt Disney died in 1966, and Walt Disney World was opened in his honor on October 1, 1971. Epcot Center, Disney-MGM Studios, and Animal Kingdom were later added to Walt Disney World, and it remains Florida's premier tourist attraction. In 1983, Disneyland Tokyo opened in Japan, and in 1992 Disneyland Paris--or "EuroDisney"--opened to a mixed reaction in Marne-la-Vallee. The newest Disneyland, in Hong Kong, opened its doors in September 2005.
- 1968 --- The Beatles’ feature-length cartoon, "Yellow Submarine," premiered at the London Pavilion.
- 1975 --- An Apollo spaceship docked with a Soyuz spacecraft in orbit. It was the first link up between the U.S. and Soviet Union.
- 1997 --- After 117 years, the Woolworth Corp. closed its last 400 stores
- 1998 --- Pola Brown of London discovered why her new Mercedes SLK 230, capable of 140 miles an hour, would go only 30 miles an hour. A hoarding squirrel had disabled the $60-thousand sports car by hiding five pounds of nuts in the air filter.
- 2004 --- California Governor. Arnold Schwarzenegger mocked Democrats with the term ''girlie men,'' claiming they were delaying the state budget by catering to special interests.
- German Chancellor Angela Merkel
- Phyllis Diller
- John Jacob Astor
- Donald Sutherland
- Lucie Arnaz
- David Hasselhoff
- James Cagney
- Erle Stanley Gardner
- Art Linkletter
- Diahann Carroll
- Peter Schickele
- Spencer Davis
- Connie Hawkins
- Phoebe Snow