MCRD San Diego, California – The Marine Corps Recruit Depot of the West

MCRD San Diego The older I get, the more I realize how important it is to remember the things that defined me early in life. I started my adult life at MCRD San Diego, basic training for the United States Marine Corps. Many people call it “boot camp”. There’s another MCRD at Parris Island, South Carolina, but I’ve never been there.

I signed up for the “delayed entry program” while I was going through my senior year of high school. That was in January, 1978. Basic training was to begin in July or August, after I graduated from high school. A car accident injury in June delayed me until the end of September. I was barely medically qualified by the time I flew from Phoenix to San Diego.

A limp for at least half of the 11 weeks didn’t stop me from graduating from basic training. I got out of there less than a week before Christmas in 1978.

Memories of MCRD San Diego

Basic training would have only been an unpleasant memory if graduation day was the last day I set foot on that particular base. It wasn’t. After I finished my courses at the administration school at Camp Pendleton, California, I was transferred back to MCRD San Diego to work as an office clerk.

I transferred to the air station in Yuma, Arizona, almost exactly two years after my arrival at MCRD and still, it wasn’t the last time I spent more than a day on the base. Headquarters for the 12th Marine Corps District moved from Treasure Island, San Francisco to MCRD San Diego sometime between 1992 and 1996. I “visited” both locations while I was stationed in Phoenix, Arizona, for more than just a couple of days.

Office Furniture

office desk Some things from the two years I spent stationed at MCRD will be forever indelibly etched in my memory. I remember the office furniture because most of it didn’t change for years, no matter where I went. I don’t know when the Marine Corps acquired the heavy, steel and gray office desks we had for many years.

Some of the desks were double-pedestal, some single pedestal and some had typewriter stands lurking behind steel doors. The stands had to be pulled out and up. Heavy springs kept them in place.

Someone told me to fix a desk with a typewriter stand because no one could seem to pull the stand out. It had to be well over 20 years old. I only know that because an old personnel record was jamming the springs. Once I got it out, I discovered the record was almost as old as me.

letter tray I remember the things that sat on the top of the desks as well as the desks themselves. Almost every desk had two things on it, a letter tray of some kind and an ashtray.

The letter tray was often called an “in box”. Senior staff didn’t know how to act if they couldn’t throw something into a letter tray. Neatness was always a Marine Corps thing and placing things outside of a letter tray just didn’t happen. When I worked as a “correspondence clerk”, I had a multi-level letter tray, one level for each member of the senior staff (the officers).

amber ashtray The most commonly seen ashtray was a large, round, amber-colored glass ashtray. That is, until smoking indoors was banned.

Everyone had to have one on their desk for when an officer walked by and wanted to put a cigarette out. Back then, way more people smoked than those who didn’t.

Walking on the Base

MCRD San Diego doesn’t have a bunch of wide-open spaces like some of the other bases. Most of the space is effectively used. For more than a year of my tour there, I walked everywhere on the base. I didn’t own a car and I was young, so it wasn’t a big deal.

I walked to and from my office to the headquarters building multiple times a day. It was at least a third of a mile each way. I got a lot of exercise from walking and if that wasn’t enough, I went jogging three or four times a week instead of going to lunch.


My waist was 29 inches back then. It took me years to put a significant amount of muscle on my frame. Unfortunately, fat came with it no matter how much I jogged over the years.

During the work week, every place I needed to go on MCRD was within walking distance, even the places I went after working hours. I walked to the bowling alley, the base library, the dining facility, the “7-day” store and other places I can’t seem to remember.

There’s a lot more I remember than I’m willing to share today. I liked the base and I liked the people I was stationed with and I’ll leave it at that.

Photo Attribution: By Randy from Newbury Park, California, USA (The Drill InstructorUploaded by PDTillman) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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