The older I get, the more I realize how important it is to remember the things that defined me early in life. I started my adult life at MCRD San Diego, for basic training in the United States Marine Corps. Many people call it “boot camp”. There’s another MCRD at Parris Island, South Carolina, but I’ve never been there.
I signed up for the “delayed entry program” while I was going through my senior year of high school. That was in January 1978. Basic training was to begin in July or August, after I graduated from high school. A car accident injury in June delayed me until the end of September. I was barely medically qualified by the time I flew from Phoenix to San Diego.
A limp for at least half of the 11 weeks didn’t stop me from graduating from basic training. I went home on leave less than a week before Christmas in 1978.
Except for infantry training and rifle qualification at Camp Pendleton (30 plus miles north), all of my basic training took place at MCRD San Diego. There are at least two training items associated with basic training that didn’t exist when I went through it. One of them, the confidence course, was added about a year later. The other, the crucible, came many years later.
The training I remember most included running, close order drill, the obstacle course and physical fitness tests. In 1978, two pairs of black combat boots were issued to each recruit. We wore those for everything except for dress inspections, even running. Athletic shoes were unheard of. I suffered from achilles tendinitis for three days because of those boots.
Basic training would have only been an unpleasant memory if graduation day was the last day I set foot on that particular base. It wasn’t. After I finished my courses at the administration school at Camp Pendleton, I was transferred back to MCRD San Diego to work as an office clerk.
Some things from the two years I spent stationed at MCRD will be forever indelibly etched in my memory. I remember the office furniture because most of it didn’t change for years, no matter where I went. I don’t know when the Marine Corps acquired the heavy, steel and gray office desks we had for many years. Almost every desk had two things on it, a letter tray of some kind and an ashtray.
For more than a year of my tour, I walked everywhere on the base. I didn’t own a car, and I was young, so it wasn’t a big deal. It took me more than a year to acquire my first car, after I got my driver’s license while on leave for 12 days. Regardless, I walked to and from my office to the headquarters building multiple times a day during the work week. That probably added up to more than five miles a week alone.
I obviously can’t remember every place I went when I wasn’t on the base. I remember taking a bus (and later driving) to the Belmont Park at the Mission Bay Area. The roller coaster was in a state of disrepair and I don’t think the park itself was open. It was just a starting point for the boardwalk areas I liked to hang out at.
I don’t remember the order of the beaches as I walked along the boardwalk, watching teenage girls roller skating past me. I was a teenager myself for most of the time I was there (18 and 19). Ocean Beach, Pacific Beach and Mission Beach were the most familiar beaches to me anyway.
I spent many weekend nights at one of three theaters in downtown San Diego. The Plaza theaters were on Broadway and the Balboa Theater was around the corner and one street down (4th Street). I also spent plenty of time at an arcade near the Plaza, which was in front of the theaters on Broadway, usually when there wasn’t anything I wanted to watch at the theaters.
I spent approximately three months in basic training in 1978. I was stationed from April 1979 to April 1981. Returning to that base was never on my agenda after that, but I had to return anyway. After an earthquake damaged some buildings at Treasure Island near San Francisco, the recruiting district headquarters were relocated to MCRD San Diego.
MCRD San Diego hosted the Recruiter School and the Drill Instructor School already. Moving the district headquarters didn’t require much reorganization. I was stationed at the recruiting station in Phoenix at the time. During my tour in Phoenix, I went to the district headquarters twice while it was at Treasure Island and twice while it was at MCRD San Diego.
I made one more trip, after I retired from the Marine Corps in 1998 (but I can’t tell you when), just to get a haircut while en route to somewhere else with my family and some family friends. The barber and the barbershop I used when I was stationed there were both still there, more than 20 years older of course.
Randy from Newbury Park, California, USA / CC BY 2.0
Marines from Arlington, VA, United States / Public domain
David S. Roberts / CC BY-SA
Edited and Updated. Originally published at one of my other websites in January 2017.