Depot Decade: A base is born in San Diego
By Sgt. L. F. Langston
| | August 28, 2003
MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO, Calif. --
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 government issued a check for Dutch Flats on June 15, 1917. The entry of the United States into World War I delayed full-scale construction for another two years. By October 1920, the barracks and power plant were nearly complete but Pendleton knowing that it would be some time before the next phase of construction would be completed, devised a plan that would allow early occupation of the base. On Dec.1, 1921, Pendleton transferred his 250 Marines from Balboa Park and moved into building C-1. Construction continued in 1922 and six major support buildings, including the medical dispensary and post exchange, plus several small utility structures were constructed. On August 1923, the Marine Corps Training Station for the western half of the United States moved from Mare Island Navy Yard, San Francisco, to San Diego. The first draft of recruits, 250 men under the command of Lt. G.L. Gloeckner, arrived in San Diego aboard the transport USS Sirius on Aug. 12,1923. Recruit training actually began a week earlier under the command of Maj. Emil P. Moses. He had earlier commanded the recruit depot at Mare Island. By Aug. 15, 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 weeklong 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. 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. In 1927, the Training Station was redesignated the Recruit Depot.Pendleton eventually saw the completion of his dream to include many changes never envisioned.