There’s a recruit ritual at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot that is a departure from those hard, long drills — something that gives background identity to the esprit de corps. It’s an introductory tour through the MCRD San Diego Command Museum, where artifacts depict the battles, honors and heroes of the past.
Standing out in one section is a life-size photo of Lt. Gen. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller. The photo is real enough that a new recruit might snap to attention.
Puller is the most decorated U.S. Marine in history, and the only Marine to be awarded five Navy Crosses.
Museum executive director Barbara McCurtis said there is a constant parade of platoons escorted through the building full of artifacts about the Corps battles and accomplishments.
“We’re renovating the World War II gallery and General Puller’s life-size figure is one of several in the area,” she said. “My exhibits guy has made those enlarged photos to give it a lifelike, three-dimensional look.
“Topographical maps detail all the battles of the Pacific and there are ‘windows’ featuring Carlson’s Raiders, African-American Marines and women Marines,” she said. “When that’s finished, we’re going to redo the Korean exhibit.”
Next year, the museum plans to showcase Marine involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“More with what the kids are going to go through now,” McCurtis said.
Average tour days involve six platoons — four in the morning, two in the afternoon.
The recruits return again with families upon gradation day. Some have even helped as docents.
The museum has 15 regular volunteer docents. Fourteen are ex-Marines, one is a former Navy corpsman. These historians are veteran docents who remember firsthand the battles in Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf.
McCurtis spent 23 years in the Marines, retiring as a first sergeant. She’s been at the museum for 10 years.
The museum is in an old barracks and can be reached through the Washington Street entrance. Included is a large reception room and a theater that seats 80. There is no admission charge.
Retired Lt. Col. Bob Darron used to travel down from Ramona to work a Wednesday shift.
“I’ve probably seen about 500 platoons and 40,000 recruits during my time there,” said Darron. “There’s tangible evidence of unit and individual accomplishments in the form of artifacts, which complements the written history and fosters high standards of militia virtue.
“What better way to honor tradition and the esprit de corps than with these awards, battle honors and objects of historical significance and sentimental value?” he asked. “The knowledge of sacrifice, dedication and courage are impressively passed on to these recruits.”
Darron was an infantry, intelligence and communications officer who served in the Korean and Vietnam wars.
Originally, recruit visits were a “filler.” Now, the two-hour tour has become an integral part of the exercise — the 20th day of training.
While all docents might mention personal experiences to reinforce a teaching point, time constraints require close adherence to the primary mission of the program: the teaching of Marine Corps history, customs and traditions.
“Sea stories, personal philosophical discussion and soap boxes are kept to a minimum,” said Darron.
Postal decline — Sadly, the days of Midway Drive’s Postal processing plant in Loma Portal are numbered, a victim of the U.S. Postal Service cutback.
From 1972 to 1993, it was the stalwart, processing the bulk of the region’s postal traffic. Down to one-tenth of its service, the plant was put up for sale two years ago. Still no takers — or at least none that have been publicly disclosed.
And, those folks who wait until the last minute to file their income tax papers will soon have to find a new drop-off location at the bewitching hour.
— Johnny McDonald is a longtime writer and columnist for the San Diego Community Newspaper Group. He can be reached at Johnny23@cox.net.