James Campbell’s new book The Color of War is the story of the critical battle for Saipan, where for the first time in WWII black troops were sent to the frontlines to fight side-by-side with white Marines. It also details the massive and little known explosion at the Port Chicago Naval Ammunition Depot in July 1944, and the resulting mutiny trial of 50 African-American sailors who were on duty that day– a trial which would transform race relations in the military and in America.
Imagine that you’re an African-American in 1943. You live in the fiercely racist South and have heard that the military is looking for strong, patriotic black men. The local recruiter fills your head with visions of glory: You’ll serve as a sailor aboard a destroyer or a submarine, or carry a rifle on the frontlines among your white Marine comrades. When you return from the war, you’ll be treated like a hero.
Fast forward six months. If you opted for the Marines, you’re working with a malarial control unit in the swamps of North Carolina among the mosquitoes and snakes. Or you’re sent to Saipan where you and your fellow black Marines manage to unload 6,000 tons of essential equipment each day.
The Japanese are trying to kill you, and you are unarmed. You pray. Later, as casualties mount, a colonel hands you a rifle and sends you into battle alongside seasoned white Marines.
If you opted for the Navy, you’re sent to the Port Chicago Naval Ammunition Depot near San Francisco, a base that reminds you of a prison work camp or a plantation – white officer overseers and black workers. You’re ordered to load bombs that you’ve never been trained to handle onto ships that will pave the way for Marine assaults of the Pacific islands. “One day this place is going to explode to Kingdom Come,” is what your fellow sailors say.
One day it does – July 17, 1944 – with nearly the force of an atomic bomb. Three hundred and twenty men die. Another 390 are injured. Most are black sailors.
Almost six thousand miles away, Admirals Ernest King and Chester Nimitz celebrate the end of the brutal battle for Saipan, an island that would become the launching pad for U.S. bombers headed for Japan. According to historian Donald Miller, seizing Saipan was “as important to victory over Japan as the Normandy invasion was to victory over Germany.”
Weeks later, the Navy blames the Port Chicago sailors for the explosion. And when you and the other survivors refuse to handle ammunition again, it launches the largest mutiny trial in U.S. history. Thurgood Marshall, chief counsel for the NAACP and future Supreme Court Justice, attends. When the Navy court convicts and sentences you and 49 more men for mutiny, Marshall handles your appeal and mobilizes the black community for a struggle that will foreshadow the country’s bitter Civil Rights battle.
Using extensive research and first-hand interviews with veteran white Marines and black Marines and African-American sailors who survived Port Chicago, Campbell crafted The Color of War topainta gripping picture of July 1944, the explosive month that changed the course of history. The Color of War juxtaposes the spirit of the Greatest Generation with the scars of segregation.
This June, in a timely and fitting tribute, the black Marines who fought in Saipan will be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for their WWII service.
THE COLOR OF WAR
How One Battle Broke Japan and Another Changed America
List $30.00 Trade Hardcover $14.99 Kindle edition
512 pages Published by Crown Publishing
Official Publication date May 15, 2012
ISBN-10: 0307461211 ISBN-13: 978-0307461216
About the Author James Campbell
James Campbell is a native of Wisconsin. He received his B.A. from Yale University and M.A. from the University of Colorado. He has written adventure travel, environmental, and military history pieces for Outside, National Geographic Adventure, Islands, Backpacker, Audubon, Coastal Living, Field and Stream, Sports Afield, Military History and many other magazines and newspapers.
His first book, The Final Frontiersman, won one of two nonfiction prizes at 2006 Midwest Booksellers Choice and was named by Amazon editors as the #1 Outdoor Book of 2004 and one of the Top 50 titles of the year. In 2006, in conjunction for the research and writing of his second book, The Ghost Mountain Boys, he followed the footsteps of the Ghost Mountain Boys across New Guinea — a journey that historians describe as “one of the cruelest in military history” — and shot a documentary film in the process. No one from outside New Guinea had ever attempted to retrace the soldiers’ route. He discovered a wilderness and mountain villages largely unchanged in sixty years.
He lives in Wisconsin with his wife and three daughters.
What People Are Saying
“A fine account of a little-known milestone in the battle for civil rights.” – Kirkus Reviews
“Excellent battle narrative and black history rolled into one.” – Booklist
“James Campbell’s powerful account of what happened instead is a[n]…important chapter of American history, too little known until now.”