My niece’s son was due to graduate from Marine Corps boot camp in San Diego and several members of our family decided to fly out and attend the ceremony. Since we had not been to that city in quite awhile, my wife and I decided to turn the trip into a vacation. We flew commercial to San Diego and picked up our rental car at the airport. Then we drove over to the Naval Base Point Loma NMAWC (Naval Mine Anti-Submarine Warfare Command), website is
http://dodlodging.net/FLEET_ANTISUB.HTM, where I had booked a room for 8 nights at the Navy Gateway Inns & Suites. The cost of this room was $52 per night which is a bargain in a city like San Diego where prices are high. The base is located about ten minutes from the airport and sits right on San Diego Bay where we had a nice view of the harbor. Our room was located on the third floor and consisted of two sections. One contained a double bed with easy chair, desk & chair, nightstand, and flat screen TV. The other part consisted of a small sofa, coffee table, flat screen TV, microwave, coffee maker, and refrigerator. Adjacent to this was the bathroom and two large closets. The place had WIFI as well as washers and dryers available at no charge. There was also a barber shop and a small Navy exchange on base as well as an outdoor swimming pool.
Adjacent to the Navy exchange was a kiosk called Java Joltz which sold coffee, pastries, bagels, and other breakfast items. Outside of this, there wasn’t a place to eat on the base, however, just across the street was a shopping center called Liberty Station with several restaurants as well as other places of business.
I was also surprised to see the USS Recruit sitting there and still in good shape for its age. This is a ship built on dry land and is 225 feet long with a 24 foot beam and 41 foot mast. When the United States Naval Training Center (USNTC) was open, this vessel was used to train thousands of recruits including yours truly. It was given the name USS Neversail by the recruits and the name stuck. I remember it by that name and have run across others who went through Navy boot camp in San Diego and knew it by that same name. There is no way to go aboard at present but one can walk around the vessel and take photographs. I have heard that it is going to be preserved as a museum which is a fitting use for this ship as it would be a shame to destroy this piece of history.
The following morning we headed over to the USS Midway Museum where we wound up spending over four hours on board. It’s hard to miss this huge aircraft carrier that sits close to the downtown area of San Diego. We paid our admission fee, walked aboard, and were handed audio sets and earphones. There are basically three parts to the vessel and they are the hanger deck, flight deck, and areas below the hanger deck. There are over two dozen fixed wing and rotary aircraft on board.
One can walk through the berthing quarters and mess facilities of both officers and crew. You can also walk through the offices, laundry facilities, brig, and other areas of the giant vessel. Down below, there are parts of the engine room that are open for visitors and, up above, there are escorted tours of the bridge. If you get hungry, you can relax and have something to eat at the Fantail Cafe and then browse around the gift shop. Located throughout the ship are employees and volunteers to answer questions and give directions. The ship also has trainers which were used in the training of pilots. For a small charge, a visitor can climb into one of these machines and, for a few minutes, become a fighter pilot flying a jet.
The next day we drove over to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot to see my niece’s son graduate from boot camp. After parking the car we made our way to the bleachers along with hundreds of others who had come to see the graduation of a young man in their family.
The Marine Corps band was present and started off the ceremony with some good music. Among some of the songs played were the National Anthem, Marine Corps Hymn, and Anchors Away. It was a perfect day for a graduation, not too warm and with a slight breeze blowing. The young marines looked sharp as they marched out onto the parade ground and were presented to the crowd. After it was over the crowd rushed from the bleachers in order to congratulate the new marines.
Following this, our family headed over to the Marine Corps Museum in order to tour it before it became too crowded. This is a great museum and gives the history of the Corps from its earlier days and on throughout the years to the present. There are photos, uniforms, and weapons from all of the wars that the Marine Corps has been involved in. In addition, there were several vehicles as well as exhibitions set up depicting the marines in battle. The place also included a gift shop.
On the day after graduation our family headed for the San Diego Zoo. This is the finest zoo that I’ve ever visited and I’ve been to zoos throughout the world. We spent a full day there by entering the place when it opened and leaving it when it closed. The zoo covers a large area and one can take a bus tour of the grounds as well as an aerial tour of the place. The animals are all in their natural habitats and the zoo grows a lot of the food that the animals eat. We saw kangaroos, pandas, elephants, gorillas, and quite a few other animals. It was an enjoyable day for all of us.
The next day our family headed for the airport for their flights home. However, my wife and I had a few more days in San Diego and drove over to the Maritime Museum which has seven vessels open for touring. One vessel, Star of India, has been around since Lincoln was president and I remember touring it on liberty when I went through boot camp in the Navy. There are two subs, the USS Dolphin and B-39 Soviet Attack Sub, and a steam ferry called the Berkeley. The others are HMS Surprise, Californian, and Medea. It took several hours for us to tour these vessels as there is so much to see.
Our last day in San Diego was spent in the Air & Space Museum near Balboa Park. It has aircraft parked all over the place and hanging from the ceiling. There is an area with WWII aircraft along with the histories of the aircraft that were used in the war.
The museum also has an area devoted to the history of Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA), a San Diego-based airline that lasted for over thirty years. A small theater shows a short, four-dimensional film about flight and all around the museum are TVs which show videos about some segment of the aircraft industry.
There is an area featuring Charles Lindbergh and his successful 1927 flight on the Spirit of St Louis across the Atlantic. Amelia Earhart is also featured with a film about her ill-fated 1937 flight. The NASA space program is represented with space suits and other equipment. There are several old vehicles dating back to the 1930’s and beyond.
The museum also has flight trainers and, for a fee, a visitor can sit at the controls and fly an aircraft. We spent more than four hours in this museum and enjoyed it very much.
The next morning we checked out of our quarters and turned in our rental car. A shuttle took us to the airport where we boarded an aircraft home with good memories of our San Diego trip.
PO1 Bill Howard, USCGR, (Ret)
and Lise Howard
Reprint from Sep-Oct 2012 • Volume 42, No. 5