By Ginny McPartland
The spectacular 75-year-old Golden Gate Bridge shares more stories with the World War II West Coast shipyards than you might think. Both the opening of the bridge in May of 1937 and the gritty toil of Home Front workers are being celebrated this Memorial Day weekend.
The bridge paved the way for major commercial and residential expansion into Marin County and the North Bay counties; the construction of warships in Richmond played a big part in winning the Second World War.
Though the two events took place four years apart, the connection between the two stories in Pacific Coast defense history is strong. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the entrance to San Francisco Bay – the Golden Gate Strait – was key in keeping the West Coast safe. Blackouts, battlements on bluffs around the Bay, defense mining of the harbor and a huge net to keep hostile submarines out all figured in the military’s response to the threat of attack.
Fear of an impending enemy strike subsided after a time, but the imposing and graceful Golden Gate Bridge took on epic proportions as a symbol of America, friendly territory, and home. Between 1942 and 1946, innumerable sailors and soldiers gave the bridge a silent kiss goodbye on their way out to war.
When they steamed back into San Francisco Bay at war’s end, most servicemen let out an uncontrollably boisterous shout of joy at the sight of the iconic bridge painted International Orange. Mere boys when they shipped out, they came home as men who had seen it all, or so it seemed.
Kaiser-built ships cruised under bridge on way to hostile waters
Many of those men were traveling in ships built by workers at the Kaiser Richmond Shipyards. In perfect tandem with the Golden Gate Bridge 75th anniversary celebration, Rosie the Riveter Home Front national park is celebrating the grand opening of its long-awaited Visitor Education Center on the Richmond waterfront. The new center, housed in the beautifully refurbished former Ford Company oil house, offers the stories of the Kaiser shipyards, including the health care program that is now Kaiser Permanente. (For more, see “Richmond fans get sneak peek at Rosie Park visitors’ center,” posted May 1, 2012.)
The Rosie park event includes opportunities to walk and bicycle in a ranger-guided parade along the two miles of the San Francisco Bay Trail adjacent to the former Kaiser Shipyard 3. The path, along Canal Boulevard past the restored shipyard cafeteria, will be dedicated Saturday as part of day-long activities sponsored by the Rosie park. The tour will end with an open house at the Red Oak Victory, a Kaiser-built war ship that has been restored as a museum. For more: http://bit.ly/tetBIp
These activities gel nicely with Kaiser Permanente’s ongoing “Every Body Walk!” public health campaign. KP is one of the major sponsors of the Golden Gate Bridge 75th anniversary celebration on the other side of the bay.
The Golden Gate Bridge’s past includes walking activities – the bridge was first opened to pedestrians on Thursday, May 27, 1937, the day before the official opening. About 200,000 pedestrians crossed the spanking new span on that day. During the 50th anniversary in 1987, about 300,000 people traversed the span on foot during “Bridgewalk ’87,” an event that challenged the strength of the structure. Bridge engineers said the heavy human load shifted the bridge’s profile and its “normal convex shape was flattened.” This year’s event doesn’t include a walking opportunity.
You can find out more about the Kaiser Permanente’s walking initiative by visiting the KP tent and bicycle storage area on San Francisco’s Marina Green Saturday and Sunday (May 26-27). See below for details.
Troops swooned over the Golden Gate span
Many war veterans have written memoirs of their experience going overseas to fight a war, and it’s not uncommon to find passages describing emotions connected with the Golden Gate Bridge. John H. Dougherty, a crew man on LST (Landing Ship, Tank) 481 built in 1942 at Kaiser Richmond Shipyard 3 recalls:
“To get to San Diego, we first had to find our way out of San Francisco Bay in a very heavy fog. . . A group of us were standing outside of the galley passageway when someone happened to look through to the other side and saw some fog-shrouded land where there definitely was not supposed to any. Surprise! There was Alcatraz, practically at our door step!
“The ship was so close that the screws stirred up a lot of muddy water as we passed the island. At 0845 hours, the anchor was dropped just off Alcatraz to wait for the fog to lift.
“By 0920, we were under way once more, and at 10:46 we headed out under the Golden Gate Bridge into the mighty Pacific Ocean. Any doubts the crew might have had about the ability of the ship to sail out of sight of land and return safely were erased when we successfully sailed into San Diego Bay on May 26.”
Quoted in a recent Nob Hill Gazette article, Peter Robinson, a World War II Navy veteran, remembered:
“I sailed out for the South Pacific, uprooted from the comfortable life I had known and suddenly, at 18, I was going to war. I was scared. In the early morning my ship approached the Golden Gate Bridge, lighted by the dawn, dappled by wisps of fog. I looked at the bridge and smiled, ‘I’m going to come back and see you again.’ And I did.”
Navy veteran Michael Gioseffi of Healdsburg, California, tells a similar story, also quoted in the Nob Hill Gazette:
“I was 17 in 1944 and joined the Navy. In 1945, I shipped out for the Philippines. It was a warm, sunny day; and it was the first time I had seen the Golden Gate Bridge. I was surprised that the color was orange. I looked up at it and asked myself, ‘What’s going to happen to me?’ I sailed under the bridge again the following year, on my way home, pleased to be alive and unhurt.
“And every time I see the bridge today, I think about my question in 1945, ‘What’s going to happen to me?’”1
Richmond Shipyard 3-built LST 481 returns from war duty
When LST 481 returned to the San Francisco Bay in December 1945, Dougherty was not on board having been transferred to another ship at the end of the war. But he watched the ship leave Pearl Harbor bound for California and recounts the story of the ship’s final trip home:
“The final leg of her journey would take her to San Francisco, starting from Pearl Harbor at a speed of 9 knots, soon increased to 10.5 knots, and finally to 11.1 knots, all the way to her destination. This was probably the fastest the old ship ever traveled, but everyone was anxious to get home.
“The day everyone had been looking forward to came on December 15, as the old 481 passed under the Golden Gate Bridge at 09:15, and came to anchor in San Francisco Bay.”
In her career, LST 481 travelled about 75,000 miles delivering tanks, troops and other essentials for battles in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater of War, including Kwajelein, Guam, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. She earned six battle stars for World War II service. LST 481 was one of 13 LSTs (476-488) built at the Kaiser Richmond Shipyards. For more about Henry Kaiser and the Golden Gate Bridge, http://bit.ly/KFQIU3
Memorial weekend events galore celebrate Bay Area history
It will be a bit difficult to choose how to celebrate Memorial Day this weekend. Below is the schedule of some of activities marking the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge opening and the festivities at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond.
Rosie the Riveter national park: All events are on Saturday; the day begins at 10 a.m. with the ribbon cutting at the new Visitor Education Center, 1414 Harbour Way South, Richmond, adjacent to the Craneway Pavilion and the Boiler House Restaurant. At 11:30 a.m., the center opens to the public. Family activities, 1 to 5 p.m. at the visitors’ center. At 2 p.m., a park ranger will lead a walk around the park; at 3 p.m. visitors can meet Park Ranger Betty Soskin, who knows the shipyard history because she was there!
At noon the event shifts focus to Kaiser Shipyard 3 where a ribbon will be cut at 1 p.m. to officially open two new miles of the San Francisco Bay Trail. At 1:30 p.m., a park ranger will lead a walking and bicycling parade along the trail to the SS Red Oak Victory for an open house and free tours. For more: www.nps.gov/rori or call: 510-232-5050. To RSVP, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Golden Gate Bridge 75th anniversary celebration: Kaiser Permanente will have a booth on the SF Marina Green 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. both Saturday (May 26) and Sunday (May 27). KP staff will share information about the “Every Body Walk!” public health campaign and the health benefits of walking. KP actors from the Educational Theatre Program will perform Sunday under the KP tent. On Sunday evening at 9 the celebration concludes with a fireworks display at Crissy Field. http://goldengatebridge75.org/celebrate/golden-gate-festival.html
For more information about the Marina Green schedule and other activitites in SF: http://bit.ly/KD7hu
1 “A Symphony in Steel,” Charles A. Fracchia, Nob Hill Gazette, San Francisco, May 2012