California State Military Department
The California State Military Museum
Preserving California's Military Heritage
The California Naval Militia in World War I:
The Six Percent Riddle
by
Lieutenant Colonel Norman Marshall, CSMR
Naval History Section, California Center for Military History
 
The Naval Militia of the State of California was called into federal service on April 6, 1917 and 1,200 men were mobilized throughout the state and reported to the Naval Training Station, Mare Island, California. By reason of crowded conditions at the training station, they were housed aboard the USS Oregon, the USS San Diego and the USS Huntington, all then moored at Mare Island.
 
The vast majority of these militia sailors were sworn into federal service as members of the newly formed National Naval Volunteers.
 
There were among them 72 exceptions (6%), all from the 1st Battalion, Naval Militia of California based in San Francisco, Eureka, Santa Cruz, and Los Angeles.
 
"The circumstances attending the discharge... are somewhat obscure." One such circumstance related to their refusal to take the Federal Oath of Office as explained in a letter from the Commandant of the l2th Naval District in San Francisco to the Navy Department, dated November 5, 1917 (Exhibit 1). The fourth endorsement thereon, first of all, describes that the Comptroller General of the Treasury, by circular letter number 164, had ruled that such men receiving an early discharge were entitled to pay until the date of discharge and transportation back to their homes. Notwithstanding that, by the fourth endorsement, the men refusing to take the federal oath were treated as follows: "All equipment was taken away from them, they received no pay from the date of mobilization to the time they refused to take the federal oath, they were put on the beach at Vallejo, California in dungarees without transportation, subsistence and in many cases did not have the necessary means to reach their local rendezvous."
 
Yeoman First Class Harold C. Brahm, explained in a letter of September 28, 1917 to the officer in charge of Naval Militia Affairs in Washington, D.C. (Exhibit 2) of his refusal to take the oath explaining that Lt. Frank R. Seaver (the subject of another article in this series) explained to Los Angeles (which was his division of origin) volunteers that when the Naval Militia was called into service, they were advised that it was for the duration of the war only. But upon arrival at Mare Island, they were called to take the Federal Oath and noted that it read for three years service (America's involvement in the war lasted only 18 months. At the time of our entry into the conflict, it had been going on for three years). Brahm was beached at Vallejo, California on April 28, 1917, just two weeks after the call-up. He then enlisted in the Signal Corps Reserve of the United States Army on July 31, 1917.
 
The remaining sailors were principally assigned to the USS Huntington, the USS St. Louis, the USS San Diego and the USS Pueblo. A few, according to the needs of the service, were assigned to the destroyers Farragut, Paul Jones, and Frederick. One sailor was assigned to the Aeronautics Station at Pensacola, Florida. E.L. Doheny, Jr. (the subject of another article in this series) was initially assigned to the USS Huntington and was later transferred to the Judge Advocate General's Office in Washington D.C., through the efforts of his father who arrived in Pensacola, Florida a few days after the ship arrived.
 
It was through introductions by Ned Doheny that Seaver met Doheny, Sr., the oil magnate who was so impressed with Seaver that he hired him to run his Mexican oil production operations for many years after the war. Following Ned's death, Seaver became very close to Doheny Sr. who allowed him to purchase, for a nominal sum, Hydril Corporation, the world's largest producer of oil well explosion preventers.


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