RUN: Running through San Diego Military History


Its been sometime since I have posted a picture run but now that the training is over for the Dopey Challenge and the race is behind me, my run’s have become more relaxed. Since I’m not measuring time/distance so much; I felt it was time to take you all on a running tour.

This was an 8.1miles/13K run though parts of San Diego that use to be teaming with Military activity. Most of the places I ran past and though, with the exception of the Marine Corp Base are no longer Military owned, but are rich in San Diego Military and my history.

image1For me personally it was a step back into the past as I remembered the sites and smells of bootcamp. I recalled the voices of my company commanders as they barked off orders and cadences, the sounds of hundreds of men in companies marching on the blacktop of the parade ground we called the ‘grinder’. As I take you on this running tour I will most likely share with you stories from that time in 1977 when I walked, marched and ran in the places I’m now running with you.

spawar-1The run started at the pedestrian overpass outside the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR), on Pacific Highway. SPAWAR is housed in what was the Consolidated Aircraft Production Plant build in 1942 and is where B-24 Liberator bombers were built during WWII. During that era there was a bridge, now removed, that linked the production plant with Lindbergh Field now known as San Diego International Airport. This building is rich with history and rather then trying to regurgitate that history, I recommend you read The San Diego Tribune Newspaper did, it includes pictures that will blow you away. You can find that article here >> Naval centennial evokes memories of airplane factory.

From the SPAWAR I ran south on the north bound side of Pacific Highway. At about the .20 miles mark into the first mile you will find underpass that was built in 1942 indicated by the date embedded into one of its ends. I don’t know for sure and maybe someone who happens on this blog could confirm, but I think this underpass was built not only to make vehicle traffic to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) easier, but as a route for the recruits coming to MCRD from the Old Town Train Station during WWII, Korea and Vietnam. Recent times the stairs that lead down to the underpass and to and from MCRD are rarely used. The stairs have seen better days and are starting to deteriorate; which is sad that this little known part of San Diego History is slowing disappearing. So much could be done in this area to keep alive the history of San Diego.

MLH_Run06After running down the steep 29 stairs, you run through the underpass and up another 29 stairs back to street level. Once at the top I headed west down Barnett Ave; MCRD to the left running toward the site of the United States Naval Training Center (NTC) San Diego now known as Liberty Station.

At about the 1.4 mile point I got to the ‘Gate House’ built in 1923 which was one of as I remember four gates that took you into United States Naval Training Center (NTC). As in interesting note I never once used this gate to go in and out of the base before, during or after boot camp. I always entered though what called the main gate which is where a shopping center now resides. NTC was closed back in the 1990’s as part of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) and the land and facilities given to the City of San Diego.

MLH_Run08Though the Gate House I ran south/west down the sidewalk to a dirt trail that runs along a canal and for most of the way the back side of NTC Park. It’s also the backside of what once was the field where we had our boot camp graduation ceremony. Even though it’s changed allot from how it look before the redevelopment; I still see it in my mind the way it was in the 70’s and 80’s I suppose I will never be able to look at it the same as people who had never been there before the redevelopment.

Eventually you will have to leave the dirt trail transitioning to the concrete and in some parts manicured dirt paths that still run parallel to the canal. At the end of the canal is Nimitz Bridge (at about 2.7 miles) that crosses the canal and connects to Camp Nimitz. Which was known more as Worm Island to we recruits. We were reminded hourly that we were worms, the lowest form of life on the earth and until we left Worm Island would remain so. This however, is not the same bridge that was here when I was going though basic training, this bridge was built sometime after NTC had already closed. I’m sort of glad too, it would have been a pain in the ass to have to marched over this bridge four or six times in a day. The old bridge was much flatter.

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Nimitz Bridge

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View from the peak of Nimitz Bridge look back at NTC Park

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west end of Nimitz Bridge

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From the Nimitz Bridge looking down on to what was worm island (Camp Nimitz). The yellow buildings in the background are the barracks

The city seems to be doing some sort of construction so I was not able to run from the bridge straight into what was worm island, I had to take a hard right and run under the North Harbor Drive Bridge and out into Spanish Landing; which I wrote about back in March of 2015.

I ran down the path to the cross walk so I could cross Nimitz Drive and get back to worm island. I tool a picture of an area I believe where the chow hall at Worm Island used to be and then onto the barracks.

In the pictures you will see the yellow structures that used to house the new recruits on Worm Island. These would be your home for the first 4 weeks of training. Street I was running on that is behind the barracks didn’t exist in the 70’s, there was a road but it was more of a path back then that had a chain link fence between it and the Marine Corp base. As part of our daily Physical Training (PT) in the 70’s we would have to run along this fence line. Sometimes the Marine Recruits would be running on the opposite side of the fence and we would take turns poking fun at each other. It was interesting to be actually running on the same path I ran in 1977 some 39 years ago.

The barracks are now used by the San Diego Fire Department as Training Faculties. You could see and smell, that they set the building on fire. I ran here to show you building 89 (at about 3.6 miles into my run). Building 89, starboard (south) side, 3rd deck (floor) is where I lived for the first four weeks of my training. The picture of the window is the location of my rack (bed). It is also the location of where I became a human radar.

You were given a number of ‘rules’ that you were expected to obey while in training on Worm Island. One of these rules is that you were not allowed to look out the windows. One day, I think it was after PT, I lost myself and for some reason was staring out into the world though the glass panes of the window. I was shaken out of my stupor by the billowing yell of my company commander. “BAKER! What the hell are you looking out that window for?” no reason chief petty office Jose! “do you see something out there you like BAKKKEERRR? “ NO CHIEF PETTY OFFICE JOSE! “Are you a fucking RADAR BAKER! “ NO CHIEF PETTY OFFICE JOSE!, I think you are a fucking radar Baker; I want you to stand in front of that window, move your head back and fourth and yell BEEP BEEP I’M A RADAR until I tell you to stop. So there I stood for the next half hour yelling beep beep I’m a radar, beep beep I’m a radar, beep beep I’m a radar, while moving my head back and forth scanning the horizon. After which I was given the opportunity to perform 50 push ups and made an example to the rest of the company of what NOT to do. This of course would not be the first time I would be in trouble.

While I was taking pictures of the front of the barracks I noticed a memorial tribute to the Firefighters and then ran over to the canal and took a picture look back at NTC park.

At 4 miles I ran thought the old area on worm island and I was pretty sure, not 100% though that this building was the orientation building (R&O) that we went into get our uniforms and to stencil our names on. On arrival you are put in this building for one night; on the first morning the make a point of going over the top at 4AM yelling at you to wake up tossing garbage cans down the center isle and banging on the metal bunk bed frames.

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I looked this up in my cruse book and yes this was the R and O building.

After making your rack for the first time and washing up. Everyone is formed up in two parallel lines by height and made to march awkwardly to the chow hall. This is when you make the realization that you have gotten yourself into deep doodoo. This is also the first time you will hear people yelling “Tighten up the line ladies; Nut to Butt! I want to see you make and man in front of you smile” there is no talking in line and there is no talking in what seems the five minutes you have to eat your first Navy breakfast.

From here it’s to the hair cuts; everyone you met the night before is now a total stranger. Once your hair is shaved you can’t tell who is who. Then back to the building in this picture where you walk though a line getting clothing and as you get each item you have to change into it. Underwear, you strip all the way down and put in the Navy boxers, then the t-shirt then the dungaree pants, then the shirt and then your socks and boots. At the end you are handed a box to place all you civilian cloths and items in which you will not see again until graduation, if you make it that far. You then file upstairs to the stencil room where you are handed a stencil with your last name, first initial and service number which in the 70’s was your social security number.

You are instructed how to stencil each item of your clothing and when you are done with your pile you have to remove each item of clothing you are wearing, one at a time, until you are standing their naked and cold waiting for the stenciled clothing to dry so you can put the clothing back on. Yes… the first day of boot camp is magical indeed and though I would love to tell you move I need to get back to the run.

Running back out to Nimitz Drive I crossed the street and headed back to Spanish Landing and then back though the over pass to Nimitz Bridge just at the peak of the bridge you will see a flag staff and just beyond it the USS RECRUIT at about 4.8 miles into the run. The USS Recruit is a ship built some time after WWII and used to train we who decided joining the Navy to be one of the best ideas we ever had. I remember doing knot and rope tying just off her port side. Back then I don’t ever remember her name being the Recruit; I actually went back and looked at my cruse book to see if that’s what she was painted as, back in 1977 I only knew her as the USS Neversail.

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View of the USS Recruit and the Flag Staff on the return run on Nimitz Bridge.

Never the less she’s still there, a little different then when I trained on her, but still here a Historical Site; as I understand and veteran group just got done fixing her up and painting her because the city allowed her to rust and corrode.

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Running back north/east toward the direction of NTC Park I ran the path leading this time to the front of the park. Along the route at about 6.3 miles, you will find two gun placements and between the two gun placements the NTC Park sign. Directly across the street is Ingram Plaza.

Back across the street at NTC park are two walk ways where the 52 Boats Memorial reside. It consists of 52 black granite markers with each submarine and the names of crew members lost during WWII. When I run this path I make sure that I salute each marker out of respect and to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. You can read more about this site on the Cool San Diego Sites Blog – 52 Boats Memorial at NTC Liberty Station.

On the way out of the park at about 6.5 miles I passed building 191, Chief Petty Officers Barracks the last of the wood-framed barracks buildings constructed during World War II. As you can see the building is wasting away and I’m sure the city is allowing it to waste away so they can eventually condemn it and build some goofy restaurant structure on it. They should be ashamed.

Out of Liberty Station though gate house on and back on to the street heading east toward SPAWAR I passed St Charles Borromeo Catholic Church built in 1947 at about 7.3 miles. Someday I will have to stop and see the inside.

MLH_Run53To get back to where I started the run I had to run up the 32 stairs of the pedestrian over pass and then 32 stairs back down on the other side. Even with the time I took to take snap shots along the way it only took 1:18 minutes to complete this run.

Hope you enjoyed this run as much as I did bring it to you 🙂 here are some random pictures from the run.

 

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19 Responses to RUN: Running through San Diego Military History

  1. Cool run! Lots of history! (I’ve got more pics of the 52 boats memorial on my computer and I keep meaning to expand that blog post–maybe I’ll eventually get to it!)

  2. pauldburton says:

    A very interesting read.

  3. Thank you for that! A quality informative tour in full colour from the comfort of my bed. You also got me fondly reminiscing some of my own memories of enlistment sixteen years ago.

    • usabaker says:

      I had no clue you were prior service, makes sense though you’re strong willed. Thanks for serving!

      • Alas, it was not out of the charity of my heart nor sense of duty that I enlisted – I am originally from Singapore where there is compulsory conscription for all able-bodied males. I will say that I gave it my all though, and knowing what I learned from those precious years, if I was given the choice all over again, I would certainly put my hand up for it, as I hope my son will when he comes of age.

      • usabaker says:

        I didn’t know Singapore has a compulsory military. Never the less you served your fellowman and country; something that is Honorable. I’ve never been to Singapore but its on my list of places to see though.

  4. runrodrun says:

    Have you thought of offering running tours? It’s becoming increasingly popular for visiting runners who want to learn more about local history to hire a guide who is also a runner to run through areas of interest with them.

    • usabaker says:

      You would be surprised but i’m actually really introverted. So I would make a poor tour guide. It would be fun to do with people I’ve built a relationship with like the bloggers here.

  5. what a great run! I’m sure its really cool to run places that were a big part of your life. I love runrodruns idea of running tours that would be cool

    • usabaker says:

      I always find it interesting to run places where I’ve been or ever grew up at. Sometimes the changes are nice and sometimes, like this one, they are sad. I would make a crummy tour guide.

  6. What an awesome run!!! Your service number was still your ssn up until just a few years ago I believe. I retired in 2011 and they were just starting to take the ssn number off military ID’s.

  7. @chasing42 says:

    Definitely a great read- thanks for sharing!

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