Historic California Posts, Camps Stations and Airfields
Marine Corps Air Station, Camp Pendleton
MCAS Camp Pendleton by Camp Pendleton Public Affairs
MCOLF Camp Pendleton by M.L. Shettle, Jr.
MCAS Camp Pendleton
by M.L. Shettle, Jr.

On 25 September 1942, the area presently known as Marine Corps Air Station, Camp Pendleton, California was designated an auxiliary landing field and served as a sub-unit of Marine Corps Air Station, El Toro. The airfield consisted of little more than a dirt runway and provided landing facilities for such aircraft as the Beech C-45 and the Sikorsky HRS-1 and 2. During the early 1950’s, the airfield was used for the filming of “The Flying Leathernecks” starring John Wayne. The first permanent squadron stationed at the airfield was formed in the late 1960’s. This became a composite squadron consisting of OV-10’s and UH-1s.

Through the years, aviation began to play an increasing role in Marine Corps tactics, creating a need for modern facilities. To meet this need, the auxiliary landing field was re-designated a Marine Corps Air Facility on 1 September 1978 serving as home to Marine Aircraft Group 39. Since 1978, the Group expanded to a strength of four tactical helicopter squadrons, one helicopter training squadron, one observation squadron, and an aviation logistics squadron. This increase in aircraft and personnel established once again the need for improved facilities.

Marine Corps Bulletin 5450, dated 13 March 1985, re-designated the Air Facility a Marine Corps Air Station effective 1 April 1985. On 15 August of that same year, Colonel Ransom became the first Commanding Officer of the Marine Corps’ newest command.

Today, the Air Station supports over 180 helicopters assigned to MAG-39, MAG-46 Det A, and a wide variety of other Marine Corps units and visiting aircraft from other branches of the Armed Forces. The closure of MCAS Tustin and MCAS El Toro were a result of Base Realignment and Closure legislation. MCAS Camp Pendleton expanded its facilities again to support three additional helicopter squadrons. The first medium lift helicopter squadron joined MAG-39 in January 1999, and the final one came in June of that same year.

The airfield is also known as "Munn Field" in honor of Lieutenant General John C. "Toby" Munn - the first Marine Aviator to serve as the Commanding General of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.

Lieutenant General Munn was a native of Arkansas. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1927 and first served in Nicaragua. He was designated Naval Aviation #3772 in 1931 and went on to assignments that included duty with the First Marine Carrier Squadron, and as Naval Attache for Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela. During World War II, he commanded MAG-11 during the Saipan and Marshal Islands Campaigns, and MAG-31 during the Battle of Okinawa. During the Korean Conflict, he was Chief of Staff of 1st MAW. Lieutenant General Munn served as Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps from 1960-1963. Other duties as a general officer included Commanding General of 2d MAW; Director of Aviation and Commanding General of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. He retired at Camp Pendleton on 30 June 1964.

MCOLF Camp Pendleton
by M. L. Shettle, Jr.

Following the United States entry into the war, the Marines began looking for a site for a divisional training camp on the West Coast. In February 1942, the 122,798-acre Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores was chosen. The camp was named in honor of MGen. Joseph H. Pendleton who died in San Diego on February 4th. Located 40 miles north of San Diego at Oceanside, the ranch had 17 miles of coastline for amphibious training. Construction began in April. Camp Pendleton bore a similar resemblance to Camp Lejeune in size, layout, and purpose. Unlike Camp Lejeune, constructed to permanent specifications of brick, steel, and concrete, Camp Pendleton, considered a temporary facility, was built to minimum standards of wood-frame construction. Camp Pendleton was officially dedicated on September 25, 1942 with President Franklin D. Roosevelt in attendance.

To permit the training of ground troops with aviation units, an airfield, consisting of one 6,000 by 400-ft. runway, an operations building, and a 50,000 gal. aviation gasoline-storage facility was provided. Quonset hut type barracks were later added. The airfield opened for operations in November 1942 as an outlying field to El Toro. In February 1944, the airfield became an OLF of MCAF Gillespie. Although squadrons undoubtedly operated from the field for training and exercises, it was not until early 1944 that records indicate squadrons assigned to the field. VMO-5, a Convair OYs artillery spotting squadron, trained with the 5th Marine Division from April to September. VMF-323 was also present with 21 Corsairs and one SBD from May to June. From July to December, a detachment of VMF-471 was aboard with as many as 31 Corsairs and three SBDs at one time. In addition, VMO-1 trained with the 4th Marine Division beginning in December 1944 and VMO-6 trained with the 6th Marine Division in January 1945. In early 1945, MAG 35 began using the field for parking of spare Curtiss R5C and Douglas R4D transports due to overcrowding at El Centro.

Located only 75 miles south of Los Angeles, the motion picture industry made several Marine movies at Camp Pendleton beginning with Guadalcanal Diary in 1942. Over the years, additional productions filmed here included Tarawa, Sands of Iwo Jima, The Flying Leathernecks, as well as the television series Black Sheep Squadron.

In September 1944, Camp Pendleton was designated as a permanent establishment. Following the war, the Camp's airfield once again became an OLF of El Toro. In the mid-1980s, the airfield was modernized with permanent structures resulting in the commissioning of MCAS Camp Pendleton on March 24, 1987. Two helicopter squadrons moved here when Tustin closed. Today, the station is home to MAG 39 and its ten helicopter squadrons. A reserve helicopter squadron is also stationed here. Camp Pendleton is home to the 1st Marine Division.

Copied with the permission of the author from United States Marine Corps Air Stations of World War II.

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Updated 8 February 2016