Maj. Gen. Joseph H. Pendleton, a military leader and visionary of the 20th century who spearheaded the effort to establish permanent Marine Corps bases in Southern California, has his name on the Marine Corps’ largest West Coast expeditionary training facility, but where is his statue on Camp Pendleton?
Up to now, there wasn’t one, but the Camp Pendleton Historical Society has worked hard to change that with the help of the local military community and friends of the Marine Corps.
A more than 7-foot-tall bronze statue of Pendleton will be unveiled Dec. 1 across from the 1st Marine Division Headquarters by the 11 Area Parade Field in the Mainside area of the base. And with the statue, the story of Maj. Gen. Pendleton will be told.
“I think it is important for the public to realize that Maj. Gen. Pendleton, after whom this significant base is named, was the impetus for the development of Marine Corps bases in Southern California which led to our country’s preparedness for conflicts in the Pacific Theater of World War II, Korea and Vietnam,” said Faye Jonason, History and Museum Division Director, MCI West-MCB Camp Pendleton.
Shortly after World War I broke out in Europe, Col. Joseph H. Pendleton gave a speech on Sept. 6, 1914, at the US Grant Hotel downtown, and pitched the idea of the Marine Corps opening a permanent “advanced base” in San Diego.
Pendleton saw San Diego as a strategic location for a military base and an ideal place for training. He not only promoted the idea locally, but also wrote to his superiors in Washington, D.C.
“There were sound reasons for his proposal. There was a deep water harbor for Navy ships, excellent weather and the city was the closest West Coast point to the newly opened and strategically important Panama Canal,” said retired Marine Col. Richard Rothwell, president of the Camp Pendleton Historical Society.
U.S. Rep. William Kettner of San Diego was impressed by the idea and suggested the base be located on the edge of the bay known as Dutch Flats, which was drained and filled. The reclaimed land became the Marine Barracks San Diego, now known as the Marine Corps Recruit Depot.
Pendleton’s idea was part of the Preparedness Movement, which focused on building strong naval and land defenses by setting up military training camps.
His idea came to fruition with the groundbreaking of Marine Corps Recruit Depot, as it is now known, in March 1919 in San Diego. Pendleton’s legacy continued with the opening of other area bases, including Camp Holcomb, Camp Elliot and related training camps, such as Jacques Farm and Parachute School, Camp Linda Vista, Marine Rifle Range, La Jolla and Camp Matthews, along with Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
At the northern end of the county, Camp Pendleton was dedicated by President Franklin Roosevelt on Sept. 25, 1942, and is now one of the world’s largest amphibious training bases.
“To be clear, Pendleton was indeed a visionary, but he had no thought about Camp Pendleton when he began his efforts in 1914. His goal was to establish a permanent Marine presence in Southern California. He achieved that with the opening of what is now MCRD San Diego in 1921. Camp Pendleton came much later. In fact, he died in early 1942 as the Marines were negotiating the purchase of the old ranch that is now Camp Pendleton,” Rothwell said.
The new base was named after Pendleton to pay tribute to the general’s visionary foresight in working to establish the Marine Corps in Southern California as much as to honor an admired leader.
Pendleton, known to some as “Gen. Joe” or “Uncle Joe,” was popular with fellow officers and civilians and was often asked to bring his regimental band to community events.
When Pendleton arrived in San Diego in 1914 as the commanding officer of the newly formed 4th Marine Regiment, San Diego was planning to open a two-year exposition in Balboa Park celebrating the opening of the Panama Canal. During the Panama-California Exposition, his Marines conducted training exercises and performed band concerts.
For many years, the 4th Regiment was known as “San Diego’s Own,” according to the Joseph Henry Pendleton 1860-1942 Register of His Personal Papers put out by the U.S. Marine Corps’ History and Museums Division.
Pendleton, an 1882 graduate of the Naval Academy, had remarked that he and fellow Marine Charles H. Lyman could be considered the discoverers of San Diego along with Cabrillo, the original explorer of the harbor. He retired satisfied that his best duty had been performed in the last dozen years before he left the Marine Corps, according to the Register of His Personal Papers.
Pendleton retired in 1924 as a major general after 40 years of service, including in Nicaragua, Santa Domingo, Guam and the Philippines, and settled in Coronado where he served as mayor from 1928-1930.
Pendleton’s monument was more than a year in the making and cost a little over $250,000. The Camp Pendleton Historical Society matched the first $50,000 donated by the community. Any additional donations to the project will be used to pay for the statue or similar efforts to help the Marine Corps tell the history of Camp Pendleton.
Rothwell said the Camp Pendleton Historical Society approached the project in three concurrent phases, first finding an artist, then raising money, “thanks to a number of generous donors who share a love of Camp Pendleton” and finally getting government approval, which was the most time consuming.
“The Department of the Navy has very stringent rules that must be followed before the Marine Corps can accept a gift of this type,” Rothwell said. That required three successive levels of review and approval, starting locally with the Commanding General, Marine Corps Installations West/Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, then the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and finally, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy.
“This will serve to both honor Maj. Gen. Joseph Pendleton’s legacy and educate all on why Camp Pendleton bears his name,” said Scott Streadbeck, the Utah based-artist who created the sculpture. “I wanted to portray Gen. Pendleton as a visionary inviting others to see what he sees. He serves as an example of looking to the future.”
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