Nearly 50 years after graduating from boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Marine veteran Ron Marquez watched from the crowd Saturday as the depot celebrated its 100th birthday the way only the Corps can: with the precision and pomp of a battle color guard.
“It makes you feel proud that these young men here today are dedicating themselves to the defense of the country,” he said.
For many of the performers, who began their careers in the Marines here, it was also a nostalgic homecoming.
“To come back here and play is a nice perspective,” said Lance Cpl. Alejandro Gutierrez, who played with the prestigious U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps.
About 500 people attended the centennial celebration at the Marine training center to see the traveling Marine Corps Battle Color Detachment perform, despite drizzly weather.
The Drum and Bugle Corps executed intricate marching formations while playing pieces including the “Marine’s Hymn” and “Tom Sawyer” by the rock band Rush. Wearing scarlet coats and carrying burnished silver instruments, they played through flurries of rain and dust that swept across the site.
They were followed by the Silent Drill Platoon in crisp black coats, executing clockwork maneuvers with 10-pound rifles fitted with bayonets. The 24 members performed military drill movements without voice commands and demonstrated spins and tosses during ceremonial rifle inspections.
“We are celebrating 100 years of presence here in San Diego, the fact that we have a century-long tradition of making Marines here, being part of the community and protecting the nation,” said Marine Brig. Gen. Jason Morris, the commanding general of the depot.
The Marines first came to San Diego in support of the Panama-California Exposition at Balboa Park from 1915-17, and became known throughout San Diego for their concerts and training exercises, according to a historic account of the depot.
Marine Brig. Gen. Joseph Pendleton, Rep. William Kettner and city leaders advocated for a military presence in San Diego as a way to promote the city’s growth, and the site was authorized in 1916 and commissioned in 1921, officials said. Architect Bertram Goodhue, who had designed the buildings at Balboa, also fashioned the yellow Spanish Revival buildings for the new Marine base.
Today it’s the Marine Corps’ West Coast boot camp, training more than half of the Corps’ recruits, including all those from areas west of the Mississippi, officials said.
To date more than 1.5 million Marines have graduated from boot camp at the facility. The recruits went on to serve in military engagements including World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars, and recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Morris said. Last year the first platoon of female recruits graduated from the depot.
The color detachment that performed Saturday is based at Marine Barracks Washington, D.C., and trains each year in Yuma, Ariz. The members traveled from Yuma to San Diego this weekend, “fighting through a little bit of rain, a little bit of wind, and the most intense San Diego winter,” Morris said, adding that “it’s the first sandstorm I’ve seen on this parade deck.”
It was worth the trip to be part of celebration, said Staff Sgt. Tim Weiland, a member of the Drum and Bugle Corps.
“I graduated from boot camp here, but coming here and performing on the site is a special feeling,” he said.
Marquez, the veteran who drove from Apple Valley for the event, said the weather didn’t dim the luster of the performance.
“The precision and tradition is still 100%,” Marquez said.
The depot planned to host additional performances Saturday evening and dedicated a new exhibit to the centennial at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Museum.