Mare Island, CA

Mare Island, CA [USMC]


Few people know that the Mare Island Naval Shipyard was one of the first USMC recruit training camps (later Depots) - one of four set up by Major General Wlliam P. Biddle, Commandant of the Marine Corps.   The other three locations were at Philadelphia, Norfolk (later at Port Royal, South Carolina),  and Puget Sound, Washington.  Mare Island became the sole west coast depot during the following year, and east coast recruit training was shifted to Parris Island, South Carolina, in 1915.


At the start of the Civil War, officials in Washington D.C. understood that possession of Mare Island would ensure control of the Pacific, since there was no other dry dock facility large enough to repair ocean-going ships on the West Coast. At the Brooklyn Navy Yard on November 26, 1862, the Commandant of the Marine Corps instructed Major Addison Garland to organize a 114-man detachment of Marines that he would command at Mare Island. These Marines would protect the navy yard from potential assaults by marauding Southern sympathizers thought to be in California.

mare-islandWhile steaming off Cuba, aboard the Pacific mail steamer, Ariel, the Major and his men were captured by the Confederate cruiser CSS Alabama. The Mare Island bound Marines, who  managed to stow away five boxes of muskets, were paroled, and reached Mare Island armed for duty on December 27, 1862. The first home of the Marines was aboard Mare Island’s Receiving Ship, USS Independence.

For 131 years, the Marines had a commanding presence on Mare Island. The Mare Island Barracks was the major Marine Corps installation on the West Coast. From 1917 to 1922, the Marine Barracks was the boot camp for all recruits who enlisted west of the Mississippi. The number of recruits eventually reached a peak of 3,800 men.  During the summer of 1923, the west coast recruit depot was moved from Mare Island to San Diego, California.

The Marines at Mare Island not only served as guards at points of entry and perimeters of the base, they also provided a back up security force, and trained in riot control and disaster response. In 1986, the Marine Barracks at Mare Island was disestablished and the role of the Marines was redefined and specialized. Mare Island continued to have Marines serve on the base, but downsized to a Marine detachment. The Marine Corps Security Force Battalion, Pacific remained at Mare Island providing training for Marines sent to guard Navy fleets in the Pacific. In 1993, the Marine Corps left Mare Island to consolidate with the Marine Corps Security Force Battalion, Atlantic in Norfolk, Virginia.



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