National Park sites tell stories of WWII life at home

Has Ken Burns' PBS miniseries The War gotten you interested in learning more about the experiences of Americans during World War II?

The National Parks Conservation Association, a non-profit that works to protect and enhance the park system, has put together a list of National Parks that commemorate and interpret historically significant aspects of life in the U.S. during World War II.

Three of the sites are in California. Manzanar National Historic Site, about a four-hour drive from Los Angeles, was one of 10 internment camps used during the war to detain Japanese-Americans. Today, Manzanar offers tours, movies, and exhibits to help understand life within the camp. Details at http://www.nps.gov/manz.

Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial, about a 45-minute drive from San Francisco, commemorates a 1944 explosion in which 320 men were killed while loading explosives on outgoing ships. More than 200 of the victims were black. According to the National Park Service website http://www.nps.gov/poch/, no new safeguards were put in place to protect workers on the docks following the blast, and 258 black seamen refused to return to their dangerous jobs. The workers were imprisoned, and 50 were court-martialed, dishonorably discharged and sentenced to jail. The incident, now viewed as a prime example of racial injustice in the military, helped put pressure on President Truman to end segregation in the armed forces in 1948.

Right now visitor services at the Port Chicago Memorial are limited but Congress is considering legislation to elevate Port Chicago to a full unit of the park system, according to Andrea Keller, a spokeswoman for the National Parks Conservation Association. That would make the site eligible for funds to build a visitor center and hire rangers to educate visitors about its compelling history.

The Rosie the Riveter-World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, Calif., about 45 minutes from San Francisco, preserves stories about the challenges and opportunities presented to women on the home front during the war. The website http://www.nps.gov/rori describes a self-guided driving tour and walking tour that visitors may take.

A fourth site being highlighted by the National Parks Conservation Association is the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site in Alabama, which tells the story of how the Tuskegee Institute was selected to train black pilots and others for the U.S. military in World War II. The site, about two hours by car from Atlanta, offers exhibits and films about the famed airmen. Details at http://www.nps.gov/tuai/.

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