A school that stands out for its military outreach is under the gun for including it on a list of 22 recommended names for public school buildings – some of which would be exclusive to schools on military bases – that was released by the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) at the end of last year.
One of those is Cesar Chavez College, which sits on a military base in California near Bakersfield, where one of the biggest and deadliest massacres in US history occurred. On 12 November 1944, a German U-boat blew up a private boat on a remote, mountainous part of the Carrizo plain south of Bakersfield, killing 52 people, 29 of them children. According to military papers and oral histories, the children were taking turns to ride a raft when the ship was blown apart by the torpedo. Other passengers survived, but not until after another deadly exchange of fire erupted.
The massacre is known as the California Massacre. The horrifying nature of the scene was captured in a picture taken by one of the survivors at the time. More than three decades later, a 4-year-old boy discovered the picture and told his mother: “That is one of the worst things I have ever seen in my life.” The boy’s mother was so shocked that she turned the picture over to a police captain who then kept it for 80 years. She then, after passing away, agreed to donate it to the Kaiser Permanente medical research hospital in Los Angeles.
At the time of the attack, the bomber was the big brother of the two children (along with his father) who lived nearby and were on the raft. They were also aboard the sunken boat, but they were uninjured. The captain of the boat, Cesar Chavez (15), was among the fatalities. He was the only known Latino in the group.
The bodies were later found at various spots in the area, including a cave and a quarry. Records show that 1,400 cans of exploding bolts lay about in the water and mud, possibly from when the boats caught fire after the bombs exploded. The bodies were wrapped in blankets or on burlap sacks and dumped at various sites.