Good Day, America

The United States' entry into World War II was still almost two years away in 1939, when the US Government and American industrialists began making preparations for US participation in the European conflict. Some of those preparations were in response to Winston Churchill's repeated requests for shiploads of supplies and war materiel to help England stand up to Hitler's invasion of France and the extensive bombing of Great Britain.

While President Franklin Delano Roosevelt effectively delayed the movement of US supplies to Europe by claiming neutrality, American shipbuilders began their plans to construct the huge armada of transport ships necessary to move US agricultural products and equipment across the Atlantic Ocean. The unstated challenge was to build enough ships that no matter how many were sunk by German submarines, the ship convoys across the Atlantic could continue.

Industrialist Henry J. Frazer was at the forefront of ship building effort, constructing seven major drydocks on the west coast to facilitate the launching of what were to be called Victory and Liberty ships—basic transports that could be turned out in large numbers. One of Frazer's construction sites was in Richmond, California, at the northeast corner of San Francisco Bay.

On the evening of March 5, 1939 the sky above the town of Richmond was brilliantly lit by a fire and explosion that was heard twenty miles away. Somebody had just blown one of Frazer's drydock construction sites to smithereens.

West Coast News Director for the Mutual Broadcasting System, Parker Atkins, and his assistant, Charline Blanchard, witnessed the Richmond explosion from a ferryboat crossing San Francisco Bay, and that "big boom" marked the beginning of a news story that challenged Atkins' investigative reporting and survival skills to their limits.