Along many other veterans Saturday, John S. Garcia watched the 100th anniversary celebration of Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.
It was his first visit since 1968 to MCRD, where he trained before being sent to Vietnam. The base adjacent to San Diego’s airport was where he learned love of country, he said, and he wanted to serve his nation.
Since then, staying connected to fellow Marines has become a saving grace.
“Once you get out of the Marine Corps, it’s important to stay in touch with other Marines,” Garcia told Times of San Diego. “There are so many veterans, from all branches of service, that commit suicide, and that’s really sad. I attribute a lot of that to guys when they get out and they no longer have that connection.”
Garcia attended Saturday’s ceremony with fellow members of Marine Corps League Detachment 1347. The group supports veterans and their families in Los Angeles.
The veterans meet monthly, celebrate the Marine Corps’ birthday and attend funerals together, he said.
“We do other services for veterans whenever we can,” he said. “So that keeps us going.”
Fifty-three years after his yearlong Vietnam service, Garcia, 72, said he still has PTSD — his anxiety prompted recently by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its scenes of artillery fire.
“But I was able to control it,” he said of the syndrome. “Being (at MCRD) with other Marines who have been here is a real plus.”
He recalls everybody being “shocked” upon arrival at MCRD as a young recruit. “But I had already read up on it when I was going to high school. “The Marines Corps was the best… Of course, that was what I wanted to go into.”
Garcia had four drill sergeants at MCRD, and “they were really tough.”
After graduating from MCRD after three or four months, he went through infantry training at Camp Pendleton and then shipped out to Vietnam from El Toro Marine Base, which closed in 1999.
Garcia spent about a year in Southeast Asia where he was an artilleryman.
“You know, it was hard,” said the Monterey Park resident. “But I would do it all over again.”
He noted how current recruits train here and go overseas as a unit. That wasn’t the case in the Vietnam era.
“When we joined … we were sent to individual units over there. And once we left, it was the same thing,” he said. “We got broken up again. So all those people I was in Boot Camp with — I don’t know what ever happened to them. … Over the years, you wonder about those guys.”
But he bonded with others during the war.
Before reminiscing on his San Diego training, Garcia was among a reported 500 attendees, including family members and the public enjoying performances by the Marine Corps Battle Color Detachment, made up of three ceremonial units from Marine Barracks Washington D.C.: “The Commandant’s Own” U.S. Marine Drum & Bugle Corps, the Silent Drill Platoon and the Official Color Guard of the Marine Corps.
Garcia called the musical and drill performance “outstanding.”
Silent Drill Platoon is a 24-man rifle platoon that performs a unique precision drills with 10 1/2-pound M1 Garand rifles with fixed bayonets. The routine concludes with a rifle inspection sequence demonstrating elaborate rifle spins and tosses.
This unit travels worldwide, performing at hundreds of ceremonies to demonstrate the discipline, professionalism and “Esprit de Corps” of United States Marines.
Following their yearly travels, the unit performs in Washington, D.C., and Virginia.
“It’s a privilege to be out here this year,” said a member of the drum and bugle corps, “It’s pretty mind-blowing to be out here for this. It feels like an event like that marks everything getting back to normal.”
The anniversary celebration had been delayed since December due to the COVID Omicron outbreak. But the postponement gave the Depot a chance to invite the detachment that recently trained in Yuma.
Marines first were assigned in San Diego to support the Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park from 1915 to 1917. Beginning in 1914, Colonl (later Major General) Joseph H. Pendleton along with prominent San Diegans advocated for a permanent Marine base in San Diego.
Funding was approved and groundbreaking occurred in 1919. Architect Bertram Goodhue, designer of buildings in Balboa Park, was chosen to draw up plans for the base’s yellow buildings as well (which haven’t changed throughout the century).
It was commissioned Marine Corps Base San Diego on Dec. 1, 1921. In 1948, it was renamed Marine Corps Recruit Depot.
The mission of the Depot – where 1.5 million young men and women have endured Boot Camp — is to train fresh recruits from the western two-thirds of the nation to become Marines. After graduation, the Marines continue training at Camp Pendleton.
Recruit training was not the original purpose of the depot, according to the base. Initially, its mission was to support Marine expeditionary operations. Training areas were added in World War II.
The Depot hosts graduation ceremonies most weeks of the year and are open to the public. For the schedule and history of the Depot, go to https://mcrdsd.marines.mil/.
With a hint of humor, Brig. Gen. Jason L. Morris, MCRD commanding general, told the military performers: “Thanks for braving this tough San Diego winter and showing up to both pay our respects to the world’s finest fighting organization and really the Marine Corps’ epitome of professionalism, precision, discipline.”
Morris joked about “the most intense San Diego winter one could deliver here” after a pre-show rainshower and gritty gusts of winds that left two performers without “covers.”
Their caps blew off.