Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton is the major West Coast base of the United States Marine Corps and serves as its prime amphibious training base. It is located in Southern California between the cities of Oceanside and San Clemente. The base was established in 1942 to train U.S. Marines for service in World War II. By October 1944, Camp Pendleton was declared as a "permanent installation" and by 1946, it became the home of the 1st Marine Division. It is named after Marine General Joseph Henry Pendleton, who long advocated setting up a West Coast training base for the Marine Corps. Today it is the home to a myriad of Fleet Marine Force units including the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and various training commands.
In 1769, a Spaniard by the name of Capt. Gaspar de Portola led an expeditionary force northward from lower California, seeking to establish Franciscan missions throughout California. On July 20 of that same year, the expedition arrived at a location now known as Camp Pendleton, and as it was the holy day St. Margaret, they baptized the land in the name of Santa Margarita.
During the next 30 years, 21 missions were established, the most productive one being Mission San Luis Rey, just south of the present-day Camp Pendleton. At that time, San Luis Rey Mission had control over the Santa Margarita area.
In 1821, following Mexico’s independence from Spain, the Californios became the new ruling class of California, and many were the first generation descendants of the Portola expedition. The Mexican governor was awarding land grants and ranchos to prominent businessmen, officials and military leaders. In 1841, two brothers by the name of Don Pio and Don Andres Pico became the first private owners of Rancho Santa Margarita. More land was later added to the grant, making the name Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores, and that name stayed with the ranch until the Marine Corps acquired it in 1942.
In 1863, an Englishman named John Forster (Pio Pico’s brother-in-law) paid off Pico’s gambling debts in return for the deed to the ranch. During his tenure as owner of the ranch, he expanded the ranch house, which was first built in 1827, and developed the rancho into a thriving cattle industry.
Forster’s heirs, however, were forced to sell the ranch in 1882 because of a string of bad luck, which included a series of droughts and a fence law that forced Forster to construct fencing around the extensive rancho lands. It was purchased by wealthy cattleman James Flood and managed by Irishman Richard O’Neill who was eventually rewarded for his faithful service with half ownership. Under the guidance of O’Neill’s son, Jerome, the ranch began to net a profit of nearly half a million dollars annually, and the house was modernized and furnished to its present form.
Camp Pendleton has continued to grow through renovations, replacing its original tent camps with more than 2,600 buildings and 500 miles of roads.
Efforts today continue to preserve the heritage of Camp Pendleton's founders and the Marine Corps' history. The original ranch house has been declared a National Historic Site.
The base's diverse geography, spanning over , plays host to year round training for Marines in addition to all other branches of the U.S. military. Amphibious and sea-to-shore training takes place at several key points along the base's of coastline. The main base is in the Mainside Complex, at the southeastern end of the base, and the remote northern interior is an impact area. Daytime population is around 100,000. Recruits from nearby Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego spend a month on Pendleton's Edson Range receiving field training, and after graduating from boot camp return to the base's School of Infantry for further training. Camp Pendleton remains the last major undeveloped portion of the Southern California coastline, save for a few small state parks. In this way, it acts as a kind of buffer between Orange County and the Greater Los Angeles Area, and San Diego County.
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