Mt. Diablo
Michael Ellis

Mt. Diablo is the dominant mountain in the Bay Area. From this peak it is said more land can be seen than any other place on earth except Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa. It is not a big mountain, 3800 feet high, but it is surrounded by low hills so the view is not obscured. On an exceptionally clear day Mt. Lasson, 185 miles to the north, can even be seen as well as Half Dome.

Mt. Diablo became a state park in 1931. And while its natural features are outstanding one of its most interesting aspects has nothing to do with nature. In the early days of aviation, pilots navigated in the daytime by following geographic features and highways. And at night they used the stars and city lights.

But in order to improve safety and help the pilots fly better at night Standard Oil of California (now Chevron) built, installed and operated about twenty aircraft “light houses” up and down the west coast. These aerial navigation beacons could be seen for 175 miles. They also doubled as advertising billboards for Chevron’s aviation fuel.

In 1928 the famed aviator Charles Lindberg flipped a switch that lit the beacon on top of Mt. Diablo. For the next thirteen years a photocell automatically turned the light on and off. Then on December 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor was attacked. The lights were darkened all along the west coast.

After the war the development of radar made the navigational aids obsolete. Only one of the twenty beacons was ever turned back on. The Pearl Harbor Survivors Association wanted a fitting tribute to those who lost their lives in the “sneak attack”.

So beginning in 1964 the survivors gather every Pearl Harbor Day at the peak of Mt. Diablo and as the sun sets they turn on the beacon in memory of their lost buddies.

The mirrors have corroded and the light has lost some of its original brilliance. But as it flashes every ten seconds it is still visible for 60 miles. On December 7 go up on a high peak at sunset and watch for the light. This beacon shines against the darkness of war and reminds us to remember those innocent victims. May it never happen again.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

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November 18, 2010