History of the San Diego Marine Base

Marines on Parade, San Diego, c1925, photography copyright Howard W. West EstateLeatherneck Forum – A base is born in San Diego reports on the history of the development of the San Diego Marine base. If you have an ancestor who served in the Marines on the West Coast of the United States or in the Pacific field, the odds are that they passed through the San Diego Marine base.

In an ongoing project to cover the 80-year history of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, the Chevron will be covering a decade in the history of the Depot in weekly installments. The archivist at the Command Museum has verified all facts.

In 1915 Col. Joseph H. Pendleton envisioned a Marine Corps Base in San Diego and approached Congressman William Kettner with the idea. Kettner had his own visions as well and decided on an area known as Dutch Flats, which was a low-lying tidal marsh that was covered with water at high tide.

Pendleton’s continued lobbying and regular speaking appearances at luncheons held throughout the city enlightened San Diegans to the idea of building a Marine advance base in San Diego. After a visit from Maj. Gen. George Barnett, the twelfth Commandant of the Marine Corps, Pendleton persuaded Barnett to write in his report to Congress on 26 August, 1915, that “Climatic conditions in San Diego are particularly suitable for an advance base or expeditionary regiment or brigade to work outdoors the year round.” “San Diego, being the southern most harbor in the United States of the Pacific Coast, is particularly well suited for such a post.”

In the fall of 1915, San Diegans voted, 40,288 to 305, to transfer 500 acres of tidelands to the Navy. On 5 January 1916, Kettner authored a bill to provide $250,000 for the purchase of 232 acres of land as a site for a U.S. Marine Corps Post in San Diego, Calif.

The series takes you step-by-step through the process of government cooperation and negotiation to make the base happen in a time of World War I, then through its construction and growth as major influential base into World War II.

Grandfather Howard W. West Sr. was stationed in San Diego in the 1920s and the series includes information describing what his day-to-day life might have been.

By Aug. 15, [1923] there were five platoons of 65 men each in training. Recruits were called “applicants” during the first two days. They watched training procedures and, after that, they could join if they still wanted to. Training lasted eight to 10 weeks and included daily parades at 4 p.m. on the sand covered parade deck.

Reveille was at 5 a.m., followed by physical training, area cleanup, and breakfast. After morning colors, the days were filled with close order drill and extended order drill, with a break for the noon meal.

The rifle range at that time was in La Jolla, now the site of University of California at San Diego. The recruits would hike to the range for the week long session.

Qualifying brought monetary rewards with an expert receiving an extra five dollars a month, a sharpshooter three dollars and a marksman two dollars. Messmen were paid five extra dollars for their services.

Howard W. West’s photograph album of his Marine service includes photographs of China and Asian ports, so it was exciting to discover references to China in the article.

During the fall of 1924, the Commandant issued an alert for the Marines at San Diego to prepare for expeditionary service in China. The base expanded as several new areas were developed for training in bayonet, entrenchment practice and weapons drill.

The buildup for China resulted in a flurry of construction activity in 1925. That same year President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared a limited national emergency following the outbreak of war in Europe and the base remained almost unchanged physically from 1925 until 1939.

Exploring the history of a place helps fill in the blanks of an ancestor’s life, so if you had an ancestor in the Marines during this time period, check out this series.

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Lorelle VanFossen hosts Family History Blog covering her ancestors and related family members. She is one of the top bloggers in the world, and host of the Lorelle on WordPress, providing WordPress and blogging tips for bloggers of all levels. A popular keynote speaker and trainer, she is also editor, producer, contributor, and official disruptive thinker for Bitwire Media which includes WordCast, Making My Life Network, Stories of Our Journeys, Life on the Road, WordCast Conversations, and the very popular WordCast Podcast.
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