Photos from the Vault

Bing Crosby plays golf in Atascadero

This NEA map compares the distance from Saipan to Tokyo as the same as Miami to Quebec.
This NEA map compares the distance from Saipan to Tokyo as the same as Miami to Quebec.

With vacations and the California Mid-State Fair, Photos From the Vault has fallen behind with our review of headlines from 70 years ago. July 1944 was an eventful month; here are the top stories from the Telegram-Tribune microfilm.

July 10, 1944

Bing Crosby was the headline attraction at the Super-Star Bond Show held at Atascadero Golf Club. Bing played the crowd of 600 bond buyers at the microphone and then played the course in a nine-hole exhibition. He was one of the best golfers. After the war his golf tournament, the Crosby Clambake, up in Carmel would become famous.

Other celebrities included golf trick shot artist "Mysterious" Montague, welterweight boxer Jimmy McLarnin, heavyweight boxer Jim Jeffries and football player Bronko Nagurski.

The island of Saipan was now under American control. The 75-square mile island was within bombing distance of Japan, and the 25-day campaign was called the fiercest thus far in the Pacific. Harder battles were ahead as island hopping got closer to the Japanese homeland.

Japanese forces had launched an offensive in China in an attempt to push back bomber bases on the mainland but their island defense chain was under serious threat.

Russian armies were advancing dozens of miles a day in Europe near Poland and the Baltic states. American and British forces were making slow progress in the hedgerows of France. The squared off fields, screened by trees, embankments and hedges offered ideal defensive terrain. New tactics would need to be invented, like tanks with site welded hedge-cutting fronts.

July 17, 1944

Local history buffs will recall that the Union Oil tank farm was set ablaze in April 1926 by a lightning strike. A similar disaster was narrowly avoided during World War II when an airplane crashed at the site.

Army Pilot Dies in Crash Near San Luis Obispo

Plane Demolished When It Strikes Oil Storage Tank

Second Lt. Vincent S. Smith, 21, of Ceder Rapids, Ia., was killed when his P-70 plane crashed in a Union Oil company ground storage reservoir a mile and a half southwest of the San Luis Obispo Naval Air Station Sunday at 3:30 p.m.

Lt. Smith who was stationed at the Estrella Air Field, was on a combat training flight when the crash occurred, according to the public relations office of the Santa Maria Air Base. The Estrella field is a sub-base of the Santa Maria field. An army inquiry will be held on the cause of the crash.

According to witnesses, it appeared that one of the motors on the plane was missing and the pilot, attempting to make a landing at the San Luis Obispo Naval airport, overshot the landing field.

The plane struck the reservoir and burst into flames. Hearing the crash, Union Oil company workers at the pump station, men from the Naval Air Station, and crew from a nearby hay baler rushed to the scene and kept the fire under control until two trucks from the State Division of Forestry arrived. Two San Luis Obispo city fire department units were also held in readiness, but the fire was extinguished without requiring their aid, Fire Chief William Payton said today.

The reservoir was not filled with oil but contained only about three feet of water, although a number of oil-filled reservoirs are in the area, according to J.H. Robinson, Union Oil company superintendent.

A serious fire might have developed if the plane had crashed into an oil-filled reservoir, he said. The roof structure of the reservoir was damaged, and the plane was wrecked. The body of Lt Smith was found by Santa Maria Air Base officers. His father, Leo E. Smith of 415 Seventh Avenue, southwest, Cedar Rapids, has been notified.

The Japanese held island of Guam was now being shelled by the U.S. Pacific fleet.

July 18, 1944

One of the worst home-front disasters of the war rocked the Bay Area when two ammunition ships at Port Chicago blew up. The blast on the evening of July 17 instantly killed 320 cargo handlers, crew and sailors and was felt as far away as Boulder City Nevada.

The Liberty and Victory ships SS E.A. Bryan and Quinault Victory were packed with over 4,606 tons of high explosive when they detonated.

An additional 390 men were wounded as metal and and debris rained down as far as 2 miles away.

The day after the blast reporter Norman Montellier asked if officers expected to find the bodies of victims. The officer's reply was: "We only hope we will be able to find the pieces."

Of the 320 men killed, 202 were African-American enlisted men, members of segregated Navy units assigned the dangerous duty of loading ammunition ships.

White officers had encouraged competitions to speed loading crews, and safety standards were not strictly followed. Many survivors were prosecuted for mutiny and given bad conduct discharges after they refused to load munitions soon after the accident. They would take on any other duty, but they no longer trusted the system to be safe.

The incident would become a rallying point for civil rights after the war.

Radio Tokyo announced that Premier Gen. Hideki Tojo had been removed as chief of the Japanese general staff. He was one of the leaders advocated the attack on Pearl Harbor.

July 20, 1944

Allied bombs had missed Hitler, but one planted by one of his own generals almost killed the Fuehrer. As part of an attempted coup d'etat, chief of army reserve Col. Claus von Stauffenberg left a bomb in a briefcase in the "Wolf's Lair" command post and departed for Berlin.

Hitler and others were saved when the briefcase was unexpectedly moved, behind a heavy table, though four of the staff were killed. Later in the day Hitler would give a tour of the bomb site to Italian strongman Benito Mussolini.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was nominated for an unprecedented fourth term as president.

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