Two historical reflections on Kaiser Permanente

posted on April 24, 2015
Dr. Sidney Garfield during a moment of relaxation at Contractors General Hospital, Mojave Desert, circa 1934

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

On April 24, 1997 – 18 years ago today – Kaiser Permanente and the AFL-CIO announced a groundbreaking nationwide pact that acknowledged the importance of partnering with labor unions.

John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, praised the agreement:

“It is my hope that together we can fully realize the vision our predecessors had when Kaiser was originally founded in the 1940s – an affordable, high-quality health plan for working families.”

The next year, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of the acclaimed 1994 title No Ordinary Time – Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II, echoed Sweeney’s homage to Kaiser Permanente’s long term impact when she summed up the contributions of Kaiser Permanente’s founding physician Dr. Sidney Garfield and his colleagues during a 1998 talk in Oakland, Calif.:

“It was in the midst of that crisis that Garfield and company, through the twin ideas of prepayment and group (medical) practice, created a whole new system for the delivery of health care that would restructure the traditional relationship of the American people to their doctors – just as surely as Roosevelt’s New Deal, also created in crisis, restructured the traditional relationship of the American people to their government…

They succeeded against all odds because of a passionate belief in what they were doing and a commitment to one another, a spirit of innovation, and a sense of mission.”

Today, both The Kaiser Permanente Labor Management Partnership (“The largest and most successful in the country,” according to Jim Pruitt, vice president of LMP) and the Kaiser Permanente Health Plan continue to make history.


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Liberty and Victory ships named for African Americans

posted on April 15, 2015

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer



(Center) Mr. Walter Gordon, daughter Betty Gordon, Elizabeth Gordon at launching of the SS John Hope.

One of our patriotic messages during World War II was that our society was better than that promoted by the Axis forces. And part of that messaging was about how we were more tolerant and inclusive than Hitler’s “master Aryan race.”

To Americans of color, all of them keenly aware of our segregated military, the internment camps for Japanese Americans, or the whites-only Boilermakers union in the shipyards, this was a challenging sell. But winning the war demanded huge changes in attitude from everyone. One high profile commitment to honoring diversity was the naming of cargo ships, a task which fell under the direction of the Maritime Commission’s Ship Naming Committee.

Before the war ended, 18 Liberty ships built for the Maritime Commission were named for outstanding African Americans. Towards the end of the war four of them honored black Merchant Mariners who perished under fire. In addition, four of the subsequent Victory-class ships were named for historically black colleges. Six of these 22 vessels were built in Kaiser shipyards; some – most notably the SS George Washington Carver - were predominately built by African American men and women. Ships thus named were a tremendous source of recognition and pride in the black community. Historian Shirley Ann Moore described the impact of one launching in her seminal work about the Richmond (Calif.) African American community To Place Our Deeds:

“Thousands of black people, far more than could be ‘simply be accounted for by black shipyard workers and their families,’ crowded into the yard. As the ship ‘shivered and slid into the water,’ a black woman ‘threw up her arms and raised her voice above the crowd. ‘Freedom’ she cried.’ “

The SS John Hope [#272] was launched January 30, 1944. It was Kaiser Richmond shipyard #2’s 272nd Liberty ship and the 8th ship named after an outstanding African American. Hope, born in Atlanta, was an African-American educator and political activist, the first African-descended president of both Morehouse College in 1906 and of Atlanta University in 1929, where he worked to develop graduate programs. Both were historically black colleges.


Mr. Thomas Pruitt, “baritone and burner.”

Presiding at the launch were Walter Gordon, Elizabeth Gordon, and their daughter Betty Gordon. Also present were Mrs. Harry Kingman, Matron of Honor (whose husband was the chairman of the President’s Fair Practices Employment Committee), Miss Florence Gee (daughter of a shipyard worker), and Rev. Roy Nichols (Associate Minister of the newly formed South Berkeley Community Church).

Walter Arthur Gordon (1894-1976) was the first African American to receive a doctorate of law from U.C. Berkeley’s Boalt Hall law school. He had an extremely long and varied career where he served as a police officer, lawyer, assistant football coach, member of the California Adult Authority, governor of the United States Virgin Islands, and a federal district judge.

The launch proceedings were published in the May 1944 issue of The Sphinx magazine, the second-oldest continuously published African American journal in the United States. The article stated:

Mr. Thomas Pruitt, a baritone and burner on graveyard shift at the Richmond yards, sang two songs: “Water Boy” and “Without a song.”

Mrs. Hope was unable to attend, but sent a message that was read aloud:

“You can imagine how happy it would make me to see that great ship slide down the ways. We hope that it will help hasten the day when liberty, justice, and peace will reign over the entire world. I know that this would be John Hope’s wish. He was a member of nature’s nobility. This ship would not be worthy of his name, if it were not willing to give its all for humanity.”

These pictures of that launching, never previously published, are from the extensive and remarkable collection taken by African American photographer Emmanuel Francis Joseph.


Liberty ships

1. SS Booker T. Washington, educator and founder of Tuskegee Institute (#648, September 29, 1942, California Shipbuilding Corp., Terminal Island, CA)
[It was aboard this ship that West Indies-born Captain Hugh Mulzac became the first African American merchant marine naval officer to command an integrated crew during World War II]

2. SS George Washington Carver, scientist (#542, May 7, 1943; Kaiser Richmond shipyard #1)

3. SS Frederick Douglass, abolitionist leader and editor (#988, May 22, 1943; Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyards, Baltimore,)

4. SS John Merrick, insurance executive (#1990, July 11, 1943; North Carolina Shipbuilding Company, Wilmington, NC)

5. SS Robert L. Vann, founder and publisher of the Pittsburgh Courier (#2189, October 10, 1943; South Portland Shipbuilding Corporation, South Portland, Maine)

6. SS Paul Laurence Dunbar, poet (#1897, October 19, 1943; California Shipbuilding Corp., Terminal Island, CA)

7. SS James Weldon Johnson, poet, author and diplomat (#2546, December 12, 1943; California Shipbuilding Corp., Terminal Island, CA)

8. SS John Hope, educator (#2742, January 30, 1944; Kaiser Richmond shipyard #2)

9. SS John H. Murphy, founder and publisher of The Afro-American (#2614, March 29, 1944; Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyards, Baltimore, MD)

10. SS Toussaint L’Ouverture, Haitian independence leader (#2780, April 4, 1944; Kaiser Richmond Shipyard #2)

11. SS Robert S. Abbott, founder and publisher of the Chicago Defender (#2785, April 13, 1944; Kaiser Richmond shipyard #2)

12. SS Harriet Tubman, abolitionist and leader of the Underground Railroad (#3032, June 3, 1944; South Portland Shipbuilding Corporation, South Portland, Maine)

13. SS Bert Williams, comedian and vaudeville performer (#3079, June 4, 1944; Todd New England Shipbuilding Corp., South Portland, Maine)

14. SS Edward A. Savoy, confidential messenger for 22 secretaries of State (#2660, July 19, 1944; Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyards, Baltimore, MD)

15. SS James Kyron Walker, Second Cook, lost on the Gulfamerica, torpedoed and sunk (#2982, December 15, 1944; Todd Houston Shipbuilding Corporation, Houston, TX)

16. SS Robert J. Banks, Second Cook, lost on the Gulfamerica, torpedoed and sunk (#2392, December 20, 1944; J.A. Jones Construction Company, Brunswick, Georgia)

17. SS William Cox, Fireman, died when the David Atwater was sunk by enemy fire (#2394, December 30, 1944; J.A. Jones Construction Company, Brunswick, Georgia)

18. SS George A. Lawson, Messman aboard the tug Menominee, torpedoed and sunk (#3097, February 1, 1945; New England Shipbuilding Co., Bath, Maine)


Victory ships

19. SS Fisk Victory, Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee (#749, May 14, 1945; Kaiser Richmond shipyard #2)

20. SS Howard Victory, Howard University, Washington. D. C. (#822, May 19, 1945; Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyards, Baltimore, MD)

21. SS Tuskegee Victory, Tuskegee Institute, Alabama (#682, June 5, 1945, Kaiser Oregon Shipbuilding Corp.; Portland, OR)
[Renamed USNS Dutton, T-AGS-22, an oceanographic survey ship, November 1, 1958]

22. SS Lane Victory, Lane College, Jackson, Tennessee (#794, June 27, 1945, California Shipbuilding Corp., Terminal Island, CA)
The Lane Victory is now a museum ship in San Pedro, Calif., and has appeared in various commercials, movies and television programs.


Photographs courtesy Careth Reid / E.F. Joseph Collection. All rights reserved.

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Permanente hospital patient shares the love, 1943

posted on April 9, 2015

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer


It’s always nice to get positive feedback on what you do. Here’s a letter sent by a patient in the Northern Permanente Foundation hospital, built to care for the workers in the three Kaiser shipyards in the Portland, Ore., region during World War II. The Pulse was the newsletter for hospital staff.



Patient letter to Northern Permanente Foundation hospital, 1943

January 18, 1943

Northern Permanente Foundation

The Editor, The Pulse

Dear Sir or Madam:

I wish to express my sincere thanks and deep gratitude to your entire staff for making my short stay at your Hotel one of the pleasant experiences in my drab life. On my first visit as an outpatient I marvelled at the excellent waiting room. One hour later my small mind conjured up the motto “Keep ‘Em Waiting.”

After a week in bed I’m sure that “Keep ‘Em Smiling” should be the motto above nurses’ station, no need to worry about sugar when there’s so much concentrated sweetness, to minister to your needs.

In addition, expert medical care, plus good food, properly prepared, amid an atmosphere of cheerfulness, why, even a confirmed sourpuss will grin after a short stay in this environment.

Thank you one and all.

Jim Sansbury, Dorm F, Room 64, Hudson House


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Henry Kaiser’s Escort Carriers and the Battle of Leyte Gulf

posted on April 2, 2015

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer


News item, March 4, 2015:

“The World War II-era Japanese battleship Musashi was sunk by U.S. warplanes on Oct. 24, 1944, during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, one of the war’s largest naval battles. Despite numerous eyewitness accounts at the time, the location of the wreckage was never known. Until now.”

Although Henry J. Kaiser’s main contribution to the Allied victory in World War II were his Liberty and Victory-class merchant ships for the United States Maritime Commission, he also produced some fighting ships for the United States Navy. These included LSTs (“Landing Ship, Tank”) and T-2 tankers for carrying fuel. But his biggest naval contribution was his small but mighty fleet of Casablanca-class CVEs – the Escort Aircraft Carrier, or Escort Carrier. And they were instrumental in the Allied victory during the decisive Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippine Islands, October 23-26, 1944.


USS Liscome Bay, underway with complement of aircraft, early 1943.

Escort Carriers were a new class of ships during the early years of the war. As early as December, 1940, Rear Admiral William F. “Bull” Halsey, Jr., the U.S. Fleet’s commander of the Aircraft, Battle Force, sent a letter to the Chief of Naval Operations expressing his concern that the entry of the United States into the European war would require all six of the Fleet’s aircraft carriers to be deployed immediately. More ships would be needed, and fast.

CVEs were a compromise design, built using a modified merchant ship hull, and were typically half the length and a third the displacement of the full-sized “fleet” carriers. On the negative side, they were lightly armed and armored, they were slow, and they had limited carrying capacity (24-36 aircraft, depending on size, rather than a fleet aircraft carrier’s 80-90 planes). On the plus side, Escort Carriers were cheap and quick to build; a fleet aircraft carrier could take two to three years from keel-laying to launch.

The Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Company built several Bogue-class CVEs intended for service with the U.S. Navy and the Royal Navy. Our British allies had pioneered the smaller carriers in their fight against predatory German U-Boats which were terrorizing shipping in the Atlantic. But when Henry J. Kaiser first proposed building these ships it did not go over well. On June 2, 1942 he pitched the idea to the Navy “brass” and was voted down 16 to 0 because the ships weren’t seen as fightworthy enough and there were concerns about their production limiting Kaiser’s needed cargo ship output.

But a chance encounter with a friend of the Kaiser Company’s vice president – who happened to have close connections to President Roosevelt – led to a meeting the next morning with FDR and several admirals. Henry Kaiser won them over, and was awarded a contract for 50 ships.

Alonzo Bay launch

USS Casablanca (Alazon Bay) going down the ways, Vancouver (WA) Kaiser shipyards, 4/5/1943.

The Kaiser shipyards at Vancouver, Wash., quickly turned out hull numbers 55 through 104. 151 aircraft carriers were built in the U.S. during World War II; 122 of them were Escort Carriers.

The ships were derisively called “Jeep Carriers,” “Kaiser’s Coffins,” and “Baby Flattops.” CVE was sarcastically said to stand for “Combustible, Vulnerable, and Expendable,” but they played a valiant and now legendary role in a significant battle during the liberation of the Philippines. The island of Leyte was defended by 20,000 Japanese troops, and when Allied forces sought to retake it the Imperial Japanese Navy responded with massive force to pound the landing troops. What ensued was a high-stakes battle of epic proportions.

The Battle off Samar, one of the three naval engagements that comprised the Battle of Leyte Gulf on October 25, 1944, was an especially bad day for Escort Carriers.

The night before, the Third Fleet’s Admiral “Bull” Halsey took the fleet aircraft carrier group north in an effort to chase down the main Japanese fleet. That left task unit “Taffy 3″ (six escort carriers, three destroyers, and four destroyer escorts) under the command of Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague to guard the area around Samar Island against the battered but still dangerous Japanese “Center Force.” When spotter planes saw a large Japanese force approaching at dawn, Sprague ordered “Taffy 3” to fight with everything it had.

Even though greatly outnumbered and outgunned, “Taffy 3″—aided by airplanes of “Taffy 1″ and “Taffy 2”— stopped the powerful Japanese Center Force and inflicted significant losses.

When she slid below the waves at 09:07, the USS Gambier Bay became the only American aircraft carrier sunk by enemy gunfire during World War II. Another Casablanca-class ship was the USS St. Lo bears the tragic honor of being the first major warship to be sunk as the result of a Kamikaze attack.

St Lo sinking

USS St. Lo burns after being hit by a Kamikaze plane, October 25, 1944. Photo taken from USS Kalinin Bay, courtesy NARA

Participating in the grueling five-day battle were 18 Escort Carriers, 14 of them built in the Kaiser shipyards. Six CVEs were sunk, all of them Kaiser-built ships.[i] Of the 13 U.S. aircraft carriers of all types lost during World War II, eight were escort carriers, seven of which were of the Kaiser-built Casablanca class. The two Casablanca-class ships sunk elsewhere than Leyte were CVE-56 Liscome Bay (torpedoed by a Japanese submarine during the invasion of the Gilbert Islands, Nov. 24, 1943) and CVE-95 Bismarck Sea (sunk by Kamikaze plane at Iwo Jima, Feb. 21, 1945).[ii]

No CVEs were involved in the sinking of the Musashi – she was sunk on Oct. 24, 1944 by multiple waves of aircraft from the fleet carriers Intrepid, Essex, Lexington, Enterprise, Cabot, and Franklin. Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul Allen’s recent discovery of her broken hull nearly 4,000 feet deep now offers more vital clues in her sinking.

In testament to the valuable role of Kaiser’s Escort Carriers, Ernest J. King, Fleet Admiral of the U.S. Navy, wrote to Henry J. Kaiser on February 24, 1945:

Dear Mr. Kaiser:

Thanks for your note of February 17th. Needless to say, I am as pleased as you are by the fine battle performance of the escort carriers.

Mere “Jeep Carriers,” indeed.


US Navy silver and bronze stars awarded to D.R. Robinson for service in WWII

U.S. Silver and Bronze Stars awarded D.R. “Bob” Robinson for bravery during the Battle of Ormoc Bay, 1944.

A personal note. My father-in-law, Dunlap Roberts “Bob” Robinson, was the Executive Officer on the destroyer USS Caldwell (DD-605) that was hit by a Kamikaze plane and two bombs during the Battle of Ormoc Bay, a late chapter in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The attack killed 38 sailors and wounded another 40, including the ship’s Commander, George Wendelburg. On December 15, 1944, Robinson summarized the events and lessons learned in his formal “Report of Action with the Enemy, Ormoc Bay, Philippine Islands, December 11 – 12, 1944.” He concluded with these words:

As has consistently been true throughout the service, the personal sacrifices made and the extreme bravery shown in the face of death is beyond belief or expression. Several men manned and fired machine guns until actually struck down by the plane. Others dashed into the blazing hell that was once No. 2 Handling Room and in the face of burning phosphorus extricated the dead and wounded. Several persons were throwing overboard unexploded WP [white phosphorus] shells all during the fire in spite of the fact that they were badly burned by phosphorus…The thing that was most gratifying was the coolness with which all hands met the emergency. There was no shouting, no flinching, things were accomplished smoothly and rapidly. I know I shall never meet a braver, more capable, gang of men.

Executive Officer Robinson relieved the commander and guided the severely damaged ship to safety, becoming the youngest Commanding Officer of a U.S. destroyer during World War II, and was awarded the Bronze and Silver Stars for his heroism. He was 27 years old.


Home front.

War front.

One front.


Escort Carriers sunk during World War II, bold=sunk during Battle of Leyte Gulf:

Escort Carriers built at Kaiser Shipyards, Vancouver, WA

USS Manila Bay (CVE-61) [Taffy 2]

USS Natoma Bay (CVE-62)  [Taffy 2]

USS St. Lo (CVE-63), sunk by Kamikaze plane [Taffy 3]

USS White Plains (CVE-66), sunk by Kamikaze plane and naval gunfire [Taffy 3]

USS Kalinin Bay (CVE-68), sunk by Kamikaze plane and naval gunfire [Taffy 3]

USS Fanshaw Bay (CVE-70), sunk by naval gunfire [Taffy 3]

USS Kitkun Bay (CVE-71), sunk by Kamikaze plane [Taffy 3]

USS Gambier Bay (CVE-73), sunk by naval gunfire [Taffy 3]

USS Kadashan Bay (CVE-76) [Taffy 2]

USS Marcus Island (CVE-77) [Taffy 2]

USS Savo Island (CVE-78) [Taffy 2]

USS Ommaney Bay (CVE-79) [Taffy 2]

USS Petrof Bay (CVE-80)  [Taffy 1]

USS Saginaw Bay (CVE-82)  [Taffy 1]

Escort Carriers built at other shipyards

USS Sangamon (CVE-26, Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock Co, NJ.) [Taffy 1]

USS Suwannee (CVE-27, Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock Co, NJ.) [Taffy 1]

USS Chenango (CVE-28, Sun Shipbuilding and Drydock Co, PA) [Taffy 1]

USS Santee (CVE-29, Sun Shipbuilding and Drydock Co, PA) [Taffy 1]

[i] Kamikaze Attacks of WWII, by Robin L. Rielly, McFarland Publishers, 2012.

[ii] Fleet aircraft carriers lost during the war were USS Lexington (CV-2), USS Yorktown (CV-5), USS Wasp (CV-7), USS Hornet (CV-8), and USS Princeton (CVL-23, a light aircraft carrier, sunk at Leyte Gulf).

Also see site dedicated to the Battle off Samar.

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