June 16th in Seal Beach History

On this date in 1954, five civilian employees of the Seal Beach Naval Ammunition and Net Depot escaped serious injury or worse when a five-inch shell exploded in a defusing shop on the installation.

Four of the men were defusing ordnance using a system of mirrors to watch the work from behind a concrete blast wall. J. L. Turner and L. McKellom were working a levered remote defusing machine at one end of the shop when the shell E. E. Haury and W. F. Nevis were working on with a similar machine at the other end exploded.

The blast shattered the viewing mirrors and all the windows, and damaged the defusing machine. One corrugated asbestos walls was almost completely ripped while the other three had sections of siding torn from the steel framework of the 75 by 40 foot building.

But the workers and T. C. Martin, lead ordnance man in charge of the shop were okay. Commander Richard Jewell, base commander attributed this to safety regulations and training set into place by his predecessor, Admiral J. R. McKinney shortly before he retired. He also gave credit to equipment and buildings specially designed for the dangerous work done on the base.

Nevis and Haury, both former Navy gunnery chiefs, echoed Jewell’s sentiments while examining the two chunks of shrapnel that were all that was left of the exploded shell.

“Good thing we were following safety regulations,” said Haury.

“Thank god for that concrete bulkhead. All I got out of it was a plugged up ear,” Nevis observed.

The damage was estimated at $10,000.

– Michael Dobkins


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