A Marine Corps Jewel
September 30, 2012 by Bill
The “jewel” or “treasure” of which I write is the United States Marine Corps Air Station at El Toro, California. On Saturday, Sept 22, I was interviewed here in my home for four hours by the oral history department of the State University of California, Fullerton. The interview was about my time stationed at El Toro and flying there, flying both the F4U Corsair and the F7F Tiger Cat. The purpose of the University project is to preserve the rich history of Marine Corps Aviation and the El Toro Air Station, as well as the contribution to Orange county and the United States.
The day before my interview I was driven down to El Toro. To call it a “sentimental journey” would be a monumental understatement. To stand on that runway where I have taken off and landed hundreds of times filled my heart with memories… the excitement of Marine Corps Aviation, the bonding of pilots, and the glorious history of flying “where never lark or eagle flew”.
My mind was filled with the precious memories of driving out to that base every morning through orange groves and flowers, giant glorious trees, lining the roadway. Driving from our housing area at the “lighter than air” base near by, and then commuting from our new housing area at Oceanside, Camp Pendleton, until buying my first home at Anaheim, California. Those were the days before Disneyland.
I was asked at the interview many questions about my impressions and feelings of being stationed there. I loved it. My first answer was that the beauty of the place overwhelmed me. El Toro was truly a jewel and treasure that should be preserved forever. It was a magical time there for me, a young Marine pilot, spreading my wings daily to fly with the best of military pilots. It was a time of growth and maturity for me on my many years as a Marine Corps pilot. I lived with life and death daily. The Corsair killed many young pilots due to the dangerous design of the plane. The’ gull wing, the extra powerful engine with torque that would flip you over on your back if full throttle was added without immediate compensation by the right rudder to offset the pull. El Toro made a most significant contribution to my own growth and skills as a Marine Corps pilot. Skills that led me on in that career to becoming one of the six personal pilots to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Lemuel Shepherd.
Today, the “higher ups” of Orange County want to make a park around the Air station for the general public. They call it “The Orange County Great Park Corporation.” It will need to be designed with great sensitivity, not to dilute the treasure that was, and is, the beating heart… the El Toro Marine Corps Station. They call it the “Marine Air Station, EL Toro and Mid-Century Orange County.”
The interview with me was finally over after four hours, but we all agreed that we could have continued for another four hours easily and still not covered all of my impressions and feelings about that unique place — that jewel — and what it contributed to the lives of the Marine pilots who spread their wings, and flew out of that magical piece of earth, called Marine Corps Air Station, El Toro.