Wednesday, May 14, 2008

"I was proud!" - A Yardbird's Story

The archives of the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum are filled with treasures of local history. Recently a letter was received from Dick Marquette of Marysville, California, sharing his own personal story of working at Mare Island during WWII. Mr. Marquette wrote:

"To the historian ...

"When I was quite young I worked at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard. I went to the Apprentice School there and studied to be a machinist. I worked in Shop 31, which was the machine shop, and said to be the largest machine shop west of the Mississippi. While there I worked all shifts. I had a white badge with Shop 31 in big black letters and two black bars on top, which meant I was working in Shop 31 and on the swing shift. Three bars meant graveyard, or 12:00 to 8:00 shift.

"I worked on all [the] machines and was at times called upon to make parts for French ships in port (metric parts). Sometimes I was called upon to work outside on a ship in dock and was then given a blue badge with black numbers which was Shop 38, the outside machine shop.

"My dad worked as a burner out of the welding shop and their headquarters was called “the snake ranch” because of all the welding hose there. Uncle Will was on the U.S.S. California which was built [at Mare Island]. He was on that ship for almost 38 years.

"We mostly went to work in the big gray Navy busses, of which there were 300. We could go to Sacramento on those busses or many other cities. One night our driver (a lady) was murdered in the bus lot in San Francisco.

"Marine guards had a booth at the north end of Mare Island and all busses stopped for the guard to come aboard for a walk-through. If you looked suspicious, he would order you to go through an “electric-eye” at his station. Every morning Marine guards marched prisoners (Marine/Navy) down past Shop 31 to their work details. They had a big P stamped on their uniforms. Coming from Georgia Street, Vallejo, the little ferry cost 10 cents and was [an] easy way to get to work. I remember the good cafeteria on the south of our shop and how good the food tasted.

"Every noon hour on Mare Island there was a lot of wonderful Patriotic music over the loudspeakers. It was called “shipping over music.” There were also boxing matches every noon. Sometimes girls boxed.

"There were air raid shelters for everyone those days and we all knew which one we were to go to in case of a raid. Also there were “barrage balloons” floating above the base, anchored by cables, and spotlights were everywhere. Thousands of people worked there and it was truly an exciting place during Wartime.

"One night Port Chicago blew up and many folks thought it was a Japanese two-man sub. But how could it have breached the net put out from the Navy at Tiburon? Another time there was an explosion inside of Shop 31 from accumulated gas fumes while machining a large propeller. I think two men were killed because of that.

"In the end, I have my check stubs [and a] letter of award from the Admiral because I never missed one day of work. Also I received two pins, which were Naval “E” for excellence awards. I was proud! I still have some of the old newspapers, called the Mare Island Grapevine. Those were wonderful years for those of us who were lucky enough to work at Mare Island!!"

Dick L. Marquette

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