History of Camp Joseph H. Pendleton

So much has been written about Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and its history as Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores. I won’t try to rewrite history but instead share a brief overview of the base taken from the 8th Annual Navy Relief Camp Pendleton Rodeo program, June 11 & 12, 1955

The Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton, consists of three large training areas- the Base proper at Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps Training Center at Twenty-nine Palms, California, and the Cold Weather Training Battalion at Bridgeport, California. The three facilities possess all the caries terrain and weather conditions necessary to adequately train Marines for combat roles in any part of the world. Hence, the Marine Corps Base, encompassing the satellite campus, is the training utopia for America’s most valuable asset — the United States Marine rifleman.

Cattle roundup on the Rancho Margarita

            Camp Pendleton is situates on one of the most famous Spanish land grants of California history, the Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores. But the Santa Margarita of today is in startling contrast with the sleepy countryside that Don Caspar de Portola saw when he led one of the first Spanish expeditions into California.

            In addition to a colorful history, the Marine Corps acquired three mountain ranges, five lakes, 250 miles of road, and 20 miles of beach. The hills and valleys, together with plains, rivers and coast, and the moderate southern California climate are ideally suited for the combat needs of the Marine Corps.

            With the passage of the Second War Powers Act on March 27, 1942, the transformation of the Rancho into the world’s largest Marine Corps Base was initiates. Men and equipment sped to build the highways, railroads, water, sewage and electrical systems, barracks, warehouses, dispensaries, hospital and shop buildings- all that must be accomplished before troops and a military facility can function. Marshes were drained, unstable soil removed and hills made ready for barracks.

General Lemuel Shepherd

            In September, 1942, six months after construction began, the Ninth Marine Regiment, under the command of Colonel Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr., (now Commandant of the Marine Corps), moved into barracks at the new Base. Camp Pendleton was named after the late Marine Major General Joseph H. Pendleton, an illustrious figure in early California military development.

General Joseph H. Pendleton, for whom the base is named

            One year after construction started, the Ninth Marines embarked for combat duty in the Pacific. In training here were the Twenty-fourth Marines (Reinforced), the Amphibious Reconnaissance Company of the First Amphibious Corps, Pacific Fleet, and the First Amphibious Corps Tank Battalion.

            Before the war ended, Camp Pendleton absorbed and trained units of the Third Marine Division and the entire Fourth and Fifth Marine Divisions, in addition to thousands upon thousands of combat replacements.

            It soon was recognized as an outstanding training base. Its vastness permitted use of every modern weapon. There was ample space for tactical maneuver, wide beaches for landing exercises, and there was afforded a variety of terrain for experimentation in practically all types of operations Marines were likely to encounter.

Headquarters at Mainside

            Camp Pendleton became the troop reservoir for the attack across the Pacific. The Base played similar roles during the Korean conflict as marine combat trainees quickly filled barracks and maneuvered over the California hills in training for duty overseas. Time was of paramount importance and training ground was immediately ready for the mission. Camp Pendleton once again became the springboard to the East as it made ready the hard-hitting First Provisional Marine Brigade in July of 1950.

Main Gate of Camp Pendleton

            Following the activation of the brigade, the First Marine Division staged at Pendleton before shoving off for Korea in August of 1950. And when the Third Marine Division moved out for Japan in the summer of 1953, it also had made ready at Camp Pendleton.

            Because of the vastness of the Base and its 126,000 acres, camps within the Base were established. The Spanish influence prevailed in identifying some of the smaller camps; for example, there are Camp Pulgas, Camp San Onofre, Camp Del Mar, and Camp Margarita.

Camp Mateo

            To the Marines of World War II, they are tent camps, one, two, etc., but the tents that housed these trainees have gradually disappeared, being replaced by permanent concrete structures of modern architectural design.

            But the Marine in training here spends little time indoors. The four-week course of instruction in individual combat training conducted by the Second Infantry Training regiment at Camp San Onofre is action-packed; a large part of the instruction is conducted at night. Of course, there is always an inclement weather schedule, but it is seldom used.

            The general pattern of training for a young leatherneck who has recently chosen the Marine Corps as his Service encompasses a ten-week course of recruit (boot) training at either of the two recruit depots- San Diego, California, or Parris Island, South Caroline. After a short leave, the young Marine reports to  Camp Pendleton for a month  of individual combat training before being assigned to a permanent duty station, school for specialists or replacement draft for overseas duty. If he reports firing the winter months, he also is sent through cold weather training in the High Sierras.

            And it is at Camp Pendleton where the youngsters are buffed and polished. Ruffed conditioning hikes over hills to reach the best instruction sites keep the Devildogs trim. The four weeks of training stress the actions of the individual rifleman during fire team and squad movements. The individual learns the techniques of many military subjects, such as fighting in a village and street, attack of a fortified position, tank and infantry coordination, and use of all types of Marine infantry weapons.

            Marines of the First Marine Division are busy daily in refresher training to maintain a high state of combat readiness. Individual and small unit exercises are held often in the Division, with large scale exercises periodically.

            Adjacent to Camp San Onofre in the northern reaches of the Base is Camp Horno, the home of Marine Corps Test Unit #1. The unit carries on experimental maneuvers to test tactical theories in order to keep pace with the development of new equipment and weapons.

            Also scattered throughout the Base are smaller combat units which are being formed and trained for eventual integration into larger combat and combat support units of the Marine Corps.

            In order to subsist and administer to the needs of the Marine in training, supporting units are required. These are the usual found at many of the established bases. Headquarters and service units, motor transport units, a Navy Hospital, a support battalion, engineers, military police, communications, and maintenance, and disbursing units are a few of the combat service support and service support units which functions behind the trainee and Division front-line units.

            In addition to training infantrymen, certain specialists’ schools are operated. The Supporting Arms Training Regiment includes units such as the field medical training battalion, tracked vehicle training battalion, the instructor orientation course, and the sergeant major and first sergeant personnel administration course. The Second Infantry Training Regiment, located at Camp San Onofre, operates the Base Non-Commissioned Officer Leadership School.

            The Staging Regiment, also located at Camp San Onofre, is an administrative unit that readies Leathernecks for overseas assignments. Arrangements are made for dental and physical examinations, clothing and equipment allotments and final administrative processing of records before sailing. During the Korean conflict, over 150,000 Marines passed through this regiment before reaching their overseas units.

            The Cold Weather Training Battalion conducts instruction in cold weather operations, including the use of cold weather clothing as well as survival and unit maneuvers in sub-zero temperatures under simulated battle conditions. Trainees during the winter months spend a week at the cold weather site. Marines selected for this training long remember the mock battles against aggressor forces while totin’ 60 pounds of combat and cold weather equipment.

Firing 81 mm mortars, 1950s

            The other distant installation is the Marine Corps Training Center located at the desert community of Twenty-nine Palms. Here are 450 square miles of desert and mountains that serve as an ideal location for the long-range artillery, bombing and anti-aircraft training needs of the Marine Corps.

            Ample recreation and entertainment facilities at Camp Pendleton are provided under the direction of Special Services. Athletic fields, libraries, swimming pools, a golf course, a beach club, riding stables and numerous other recreational facilities provide for the Leathernecks’ recreation requirements. And Camp Pendleton is proud of its coast-to-coast ABC radio program, “Marines in Review,” which has been broadcast weekly to the nation for more than four years. It is written, acted and produced by Pendleton marines and the musical scores are played by the Camp Pendleton Marine Band.

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