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Marines celebrate a centennial milestone in San Diego

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Department of Defense
A 1960s aerial view of Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.

COVID protocols have limited the public celebration, but San Diego’s original permanent Marine base celebrated 100 years this week.

Marine Historian Joanie Schwarz-Wetter says Marine Corp Recruit Depot San Diego was part of a vision for the city, which included courting both the Marines and the Navy.

“Local congressman William Kettner played a huge role in bringing not only the Marine Corps but the Navy to San Diego,” she said. “It was his vision to grow San Diego through the use of the armed forces.”

Nestled near the airport, minutes from downtown, the base was the hub for the U.S. Marine Corps on the West Coast. Its role changed as the much larger Camp Pendleton came on line in 1942. It was still a major staging area during World War II. The celebrated Navajo Code Talkers, who created a military code from the complex Navajo language, trained at Marine Base San Diego.

“As the years went on since recruit training first moved here in 1923, more and more focus was paid to recruit training,” she said. “It was 1948, though, when the base was officially redesignated as Marine Corps Recruit Depot.”

Marines celebrate 100 years in San Diego

The base now trains all male recruits west of the Mississippi. After a long delay, this year they also began training their first female recruits.

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy visited the base. Several of the original buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. Assuming COVID protocols loosen, the base plans more public celebrations in the spring.