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Apr-17-2012 08:56printcomments

MCAS El Toro: Modern Day Marine Ghost Town

The photos each tell a small story, all are captioned.

Marines dancing on the flightline at MCAS El Toro in 1982.
US Marines dancing by the flightline at MCAS El Toro in 1982.
Photo by Tim King, USMC.

(IRVINE, CA) - There was a time, half a century in fact, when the best possible stateside duty a Marine could hope for, was Marine Corps Air Station El Toro in Orange County.

It was exciting and fast paced, the home of the Third Marine Air Wing, a fighter and attack jet base, located in warm, sunny Southern California, close to Laguna Beach.

Marines in the air wing are known for having a substantially "easier life" than their infantry counterparts at Camp Pendleton, just an hour south from El Toro. The term 'Swing with the Wing' applied to this perceived life, where Marines were allowed to wear their hair a little longer, had to salute bit less, and filled more technical roles in aviation. When El Toro was an operational base, the west coast of the United States was extremely secure.

The closure of this base in 1999 seemed to make little sense then and while we now know it is heavily contaminated with toxic waste, it is better that Marines no longer have to serve here, this human safety aspect never had anything to do with decisions regarding the base's future use.

Toxic Ghost Town

Long ago listed as an EPA Superfund Site, MCAS El Toro's water tables are clogged with the chemical TCE (Trichloroethylene) which is a chemical degreaser used to clean the jet fighters and C-130's, and disposed of hap-hazardously, into the water drains. TCE is only one of many contaminants associated with the base; benzene is a product of fuel, and lots of that was spilled over the base's half century of use. I happen to know about that one as I spent more than two years at this base in the early 80's. My job as a Marine was tactical aircraft refueler.

The control tower is said to be one of the base's most haunted locations.
2010 Salem-News.com photo by Bonnie King

Today the once glorious Marine air base is quite ironically, part of what people call "The Safest City in America" and Irvine is a nice place, but this base isn't part of what led to this claim, not at all. El Toro MCAS, in the end, is a hotly pursued business venture that turned into a toxic liability.

Soon after its closure in 1999, it was decided that the base would become a housing community and park, but the bad publicity, combined with the fact that millions and millions of dollars vaporized into thin air, have kept this project from creeping along.

It is a long story and I won't put you through it. It does seem hard to view this once viable aspect of Orange County as anything more than a toxic nightmare. 'Toxic soup' as our writer Roger Butow once said, man how that description stuck.

But why a ghost town?

Fair question, let me see if I can account for a few of the reasons that this is probably one of the most haunted places in America; where security guards frequently "see Marines walking" on the base at night, who are never there upon closer examination. Or, the way the tower lights come on when the place is off the grid and totally abandoned, locked tight.

A Colonel named James Sabow who was a career Marine fighter pilot, blew the whistle on El Toro being used to receive continued drug shipments from Nicaragua. Years after the Iran-Contra hearings, he was threatened and then quickly died, allegedly from suicide.

This is a story Salem-News has explored at great length and we are convinced that this honorable man was murdered. His case has never been pursued by officials who might as well say the sky is green, for all the sense they make. This is a story that our Reporter Robert O'Dowd, also a former El Toro Marine, has followed closely.

Of course any military air base has crashes, and those that have taken place at El Toro have been grisly. In the 80's, a plane actually crashed into the base chapel and destroyed it. Those most flights were successful, there were many aircraft that lifted off the tarmac at El Toro and never returned.

Google Earth view of the flightline at MCAS El Toro

The worst was the tragic crash that happened 25 June 1965. A military transport KC-135 jet departed El Toro with 72 Marines aboard, deploying to Vietnam. All of those men plus the flight crew, for a total of 84 souls, died almost immediately after take off, when the plane struck a fog-shrouded mountain and exploded.

It was one of the worst military air disasters in history. At that time, it was California's worst air disaster.

During the Vietnam War, bodies of Marines killed were shipped back to the U.S. via MCAS El Toro. I do not know what percentage of the Marines we are talking about, but I have been told it was the majority. Of course death is part of the military and all bases are associated with it in their own ways. After that, El Toro MCAS itself, is what died. The ghosts of people are likely incidental.

Here are several photos that were taken in 2008 and 2009, by Bonnie King, the Publisher of Salem-News.com, and I.

We were both at El Toro when I was a Marine, it is our own personal history, and that of our children, two of which were born with health problems related to El Toro. Sadly for many Marines who served here, the toxicity meant a death sentence from cancer or other ailments that tend to result from exposure to these chemicals. The photos each tell a small story, all are captioned.

Sticker on a window at the El Toro Marine air base in California.
(Photo: TAK/Salem-News.com)

Signs of dedicated Marine service are everywhere at the El Toro air base in
California. (Photo: TAK/Salem-News.com)

Main gate- now-closed El Toro Marine air base.
(Photo: TAK/Salem-News.com)

Maintenance building near MWSG-37's part of El Toro MCAS, the closed
air base in California. (Photo: TAK/Salem-News.com)

A jet fighter hangar also in the highly contaminated part of the Marine air
base, El Toro. (Photo: TAK/Salem-News.com)

Another shot of an abandoned building at El Toro MCAS.
(Photo: TAK/Salem-News.com)

More expanses of abandoned air base and buildings at El Toro in California.
(Photo: TAK/Salem-News.com)

Large buildings at the El Toro Marine base unloaded freight from trains.
(Photo: TAK/Salem-News.com)

The Marine base at El Toro- a ghost town in 2008.
(Photo: TAK/Salem-News.com)

Group headquarters for MWSG-37 in the contaminated zone at the El Toro
Marine base. (Photo: TAK/Salem-News.com)

Small chow hall for Marines in the MWSG-37 area of El Toro MCAS.
(Photo: TAK/Salem-News.com)

Another angle of the MWSG-37 at El Toro which is contaminated with
the chemical TCE. (Photo: TAK/Salem-News.com)

MWSG-37 hangar at the El Toro Marine air base is highly contaminated with
TCE. (Photo: TAK/Salem-News.com)

Reverse view of the photo at left, MCAS El Toro in Southern California.
(Photo: TAK/Salem-News.com)

El Toro's 'ground zero' - MWSG-37.
(Photo: TAK/Salem-News.com)

A chair that could probably tell a thousand stories at the El Toro Marine
Corps Air Station. (Photo: TAK/Salem-News.com)

A view from the upper floor of Hangar 297 at MCAS El Toro.
(Photo: TAK/Salem-News.com)

The entrance to the upstairs area of the 37 hangar at El Toro MCAS.
(Photo: TAK/Salem-News.com)

This is another building on the extremely contaminated part of the base at
El Toro. (Photo: TAK/Salem-News.com)

The Hqs-37 hangar at MWSG-37 was the prime contamination zone at
El Toro MCAS. (Photo: TAK/Salem-News.com)

During the time of the Marines, the base at El Toro was active and immaculate.
(Photo: TAK/Salem-News.com)

This officer suite was dedicated to a Marine named General
Schlit. (Photo: TAK/Salem-News.com)

A building for visiting officers at the El Toro Marine Air Station.
(Photo: TAK/Salem-News.com)

People spending time on the closed base say several notable areas are haunted.
It is not hard to imagine. (Photo: TAK/Salem-News.com)

The VMFA 212 is another Marine Corps Fighter and Attack squadron that
was based at El Toro. (Photo: TAK/Salem-News.com)

VMFAT-101 is a training squadron and is still active at MCAS Miramar.
(Photo: TAK/Salem-News.com)

MCAS El Toro was the Marine Corps' flagship air base.
(Photo: TAK/Salem-News.com)

Marine Aviation Weapons Tactics Squadron 1 (MAWTS-1) squadron sticker
still affixed to a hangar window. (Photo: TAK/Salem-News.com)

El Toro's buildings were mostly WWII vintage. Some like these were still
very sound. (Photo: TAK/Salem-News.com)

Another row of abandoned buildings at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station
in California. (Photo: TAK/Salem-News.com)

Asbestos contamination accompanies pollutants in this El Toro building.
(Photo: TAK/Salem-News.com)

This abandoned building once filled an important role at the El Toro Marine
Corps Air Station. (Photo: TAK/Salem-News.com)

The hangar to the immediate south of the MWSG-37 hangar at El Toro.
(Photo: TAK/Salem-News.com)

Buildings filled with life for decades sit quietly in the sun, without the sound
of jets thundering by. (Photo: TAK/Salem-News.com)

Marine Hqs-37 Squadron hangar at El Toro's "Ground Zero".
(Photo: TAK/Salem-News.com)

There are several toxic, cancer causing chemicals in the groundwater from
El Toro Marine Air Station. (Photo: TAK/Salem-News.com)

MCAS El Toro MWSG-37 area, the most toxic part of the base, where
several Salem-News.com writers were stationed. (Photo: BJK/Salem-News.com)

The now-closed El Toro Marine base.
Summer 2009 (Photo: BJK/Salem-News.com)

El Toro Marines drew their flight gear in this huge, now abandoned
warehouse. Summer 2009 (Photo: BJK/Salem-News.com)

Yet another shot of the air control tower at the now-closed El Toro Marine
air base, Summer 2009 (Photo: BJK/Salem-News.com)

The old now decrepit Marine Air Station at El Toro,
Summer 2009 (Photo: BJK/Salem-News.com)

Many died while attending and teaching at the El Toro School.
The level of toxic contamination unknown. (Photo: BJK/Salem-News.com)

Near the El Toro School, where numerous kids died, and teachers, mostly
from cancer. (Photo: BJK/Salem-News.com)

Another lonely shot of NAMAR base housing at El Toro, once full of life. Homes
were built as temporary housing in WWII. (Photo: BJK/Salem-News.com)

_________________________________________

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Tom Lattenhauer Sgt November 15, 2016 6:09 pm (Pacific time)

VMA-214 Ordnance & rifle range coach/May 1971-Aug 1974 I remember my first day there.You couldn't see the mountains through the purple smog! Loaded alot of bombs,napalm etc.for pilot training. Also worked the airshows (our squadron hosted the Blue Angels) Sundays at Laguna beach were fun,and the drive there through the canyon was beautiful. The cabbage fields, horse farms and orange groves surrounding the base had their own 'memorable' odors. Lots of open land.


Michael Crossley November 7, 2016 8:07 am (Pacific time)

El Toro was a 'post of the Corps' base when I was assigned there from MCRD San Diego October 1964. It was a great facility then. I was there from October 1964 till July 1965. I was with MAG 15 / MABS 15 as a 2511 - field wireman.


Anonymous October 21, 2016 5:31 am (Pacific time)

The Vietnam war was not during peacetime

 EDITOR: Duly noted and correction made. Thank you!  


Col J. Dale Hollabaugh, Las Vegas September 15, 2016 10:42 pm (Pacific time)

Sad, sad day! I flew out of El Toro as an Infantry Unit Leader (selected for Major) of 165 (I think that was a full load for a 707) Marines in early Sep 1966, and flew back there in late Sep 1967 - alive, thank God! I hadn't heard about their water problems either - strange - after my family suffered from the contaminated water at CLNC in '58-'60 - during the first Lebanon Crisis. Very interesting photos - thanks again. Best, Dale


Dennis Reddinger August 29, 2016 1:22 pm (Pacific time)

I was s Navy Corpsman stationed at ElToro 1967-1968,great base, great NCO club I was also in the the H53 helicopter that crashed at ToroPeak in May of 1968 and 30 years later hiked to wreckage and parts of helicopter still remained, so I definitely have great memories of El Toro and was proud to serve with the Marine Corps my last two years


Terry Slota August 27, 2016 1:39 pm (Pacific time)

stationed at El Toro w/MAG-15,H&MS-15 from 1/64 till 10/65. it was a great duty station at the time, have some very great memories of chasing the surfer girls at Laguna Beach.


Anonymous August 24, 2016 9:08 pm (Pacific time)

I'm a Santa Ana resident who is currently serving and stationed at MCAS Yuma. My parents used to take me to the airshows hosted there but I was too young to remember (I must've been like 4 or 5) anyway my father described the aircraft I liked watching take off as the VTOL, I assume the harrier jets. Can anyone tell me what harrier squadrons were stationed there in '94 and or '95? Thank you.


Richard Daly August 23, 2016 8:27 am (Pacific time)

I was stationed at MCAS El Toro from 1984-1986 as an avionics technician with MAG 13. I was a 20 yo Marine Lance Corporal who had many happy times on this base. They had a swimming pool with a high dive board, bowling alley, PX, everything. The best part about this base was how close it was to Laguna Beach. There was a public bus stop right on the main road. My friend bought a surfboard and we would take the bus to the Southern Cal beaches on many weekends. It was like a country club, my father used to laugh at how easy a duty station it was and couldn't believe that I was actually serving in the US Marine Corps. Thanks for my misspent youth MCAS El Toro!!


Pamela Palmer Culler July 9, 2016 2:18 pm (Pacific time)

Thank you for your story. I always knew my father taught other pilots to fly from El Toro during WWII but did not know much about the base. I have the squadron photo from 1944 for the VMSD-454 where I can see my Dad but I wish I'd know about it all before he died in 1987. I never thought to ask him about this piece of history. So I'm glad you had this story.


Cindy Molin May 9, 2016 12:52 pm (Pacific time)

Hello to everyone. I have not thought of El Toro Marine Base in a while. When I have thoughts of my grandpa and his involvement with the base, then I have fond memories. I recently was browsing through a magazine from the OC which had an article about the base which brought back a lot of memories. I cannot find that article in a magazine on-line but found this site. My loving memories are from being by the side of my grandpa on the base. He was not in the military. He was a civilian who was the Head Master Gardener for the base. He was an amazing Gardener. His, and my Nanas, home in the Modjeska Canyon area of the OC, was amazing and he brought that master, which he also brought from England, to El Toro Marine Base. I would go with him from a young girl up until his retirement, I was probably 16 or so. He took so much pride in his work. We would drive along the base and see all of the work he and his crew had worked on. He was very proud. Grandpa put so much work into making the base beautiful for all of the servicemen/woman.I have seen the base briefly from a road view-the giant hangers-and it took my breath away and so many memories. I currently live in San Diego. An amazing place. Cindy


Jo Krasch April 11, 2016 9:10 am (Pacific time)

I too was stationed at MCAS El Toro MAG/H&MS 13 and it is truly sad to see how such a vibrant base has once again met its demise. SEMPER FI EL TORO thank you for the memories. SEMPER FI my fellow Marines.


Dennis Murr April 9, 2016 7:59 pm (Pacific time)

My dad was a GySgt. in charge of the mess hall at El Toro. I attended Kindergarten at the school there in '61-'62. This is the first time I have heard of the toxic waste problems; what a shame. I remember seeing the Blue Angels fly over several times.


Alex "EZ" Vasquez March 21, 2016 3:40 pm (Pacific time)

I was an Air Traffic Controller there 86-88. I was really hoping to see a beautiful park and housing and not this ghost town. You couldn't beat the view from the tower when the Blue Angels practiced and performed in the Air Shows. No better team exists even today. I remember watching Col. Cadick crash his F-18 during the air show. If I remember correctly he bumped the pilot that was supposed to actually perform. I have often wondered what happened to my fellow Marines that I worked with there. Semper Fi Marines!


Toad Homer March 21, 2016 2:14 pm (Pacific time)

Spent 3-1/2 wonderful bachelor-years stationed there flying T-33, TF9F-8T, A-4B, U-ll and SNB aircraft; living mostly in and about Laguna Beach and Santa Ana.


Kenneth L Lipp Jr March 21, 2016 7:21 am (Pacific time)

I was stationed at MCAS El Toro in 1986. I was a Fire Control Technician at VMA (AW) 242 The Bats (A6-E at the time). Did one wespac with the Bats before my discharge in 1988. I actually stayed in California until 2009 and for the longest time figured the re-development plans for the area had begun until finding out years later about the contamination. I was only stationed at El Toro for about a year and half and the subject of contamination never came up. Sad to see the pictures of a dilapidated base.


Walter Cunningham March 9, 2016 8:22 pm (Pacific time)

It is sad to hear how far MCAS El Toro has deteriorated. After getting my wings in 1953, I reported to El Toro when they were beginning to let 2nd Lts. join an all-weather night fighter squadron, VMF(AW)542, flying the F3D-2. Six months later, it was Korea. The F3D was an underpowered dog but the experience was the most valuable of my flying career as it prepared me for higher performing aircraft and eventually the Apollo spacecraft. I will never forget my time at El Toro.


Don Jackson March 9, 2016 8:13 am (Pacific time)

The the caption under picture of the small blue and white VMFA-212 squadron sticker on a window might more accurately reference the sticker as follows: "Members of VMFA-212, a Marine fighter squadron from Marine Corps Air Station, Kaneohe, HI, left their mark on the window above". VMFA-212 was never based at El Toro. It was always based in Hawaii or Iwakuni, Japan. When I was in 212, we occasionally flew to El Toro for meetings or for training unavailable in the Hawaiian Islands. I was based at El Toro in VMFA-334 in '67-'68 and at Kaneohe in VMFA-212 '69-'72.


Tom Bacome March 6, 2016 9:57 pm (Pacific time)

I was stationed at El Toro 6 times from 18953 until 1967. I drove by there when my Grandson graduated from boot camp at San Diego and couldn't recognize anything. I remember back in 1953 there was mountains and islands to view but when I left in 1967, I lived at LTA and couldn't see the blimp hangers because of the smog.. I have many fond memories of the beaches and the drive in restaurant way out on South Main near what is now John Wayne airport (I think).


Linda Coomer Hogan March 6, 2016 4:55 pm (Pacific time)

I grew up on El Toro Marine base in the mid and late 60's. It was a premier base with a px, grocery store, bowling alley and so much more. It's sad to hear of the contamination and see its demise, so many good memories....


Victor Sessions Cpl-E4 March 6, 2016 2:35 pm (Pacific time)

Wow, this brings back good and bad memories. I was deployed with VMFA 323 out of El Toro on June 25, 1965. I was suppose to be on that KC 135 that crashed into the mountain. My self and 4 other Marines were bumped from the flight by 4 higher ranking Marines. It was very foggy that morning. We were boarded on the second flight, and when we received word that the first flight had crashed into the mountain. Our flight was delayed until the fog lifted. It was a great tragedy. I returned to El Toro from Chu Lai, Viet Nam in December 1966. I was assigned to VMFA 122, MAG 33 at El Toro until I was discharged June 10, 1967.


Darryl Bloom March 6, 2016 1:55 pm (Pacific time)

What a shame., but great memories I still have...I was stationed at El Toro from 1961-63 with VMF-323/MAG-33 which at the time flew the F8U ..did a WESPAC on CVA-16 USS LEXINGTON with 323. Great article, but missed the favorite building of all the Marines stationed there...."The Tail of The Bull" outside the front gate!!! Semper Fi to all the "Snakes" of "323"!!!!


Donald L. Griffith March 5, 2016 6:56 pm (Pacific time)

I was with VMF(AW)323, the Death Rattlers, in MAG 33 in 1962-1963. We had a great squadron and we all loved El Toro. We made our TransPac to Japan in June 1963 and hated to leave our beautiful base. I really hate to see it as it is today. Semper Fi


Fred Weir February 7, 2016 7:34 am (Pacific time)

Regarding the picture of a yellow plaque featuring the image of a Marine Corps general, your title incorrectly states the general's name as "Schlitz". In fact, his name was "Schilt". General Schilt was a Congressional Medal Of Honor recipient. In 1953 he was also CO of the 3rd MAW.

EDITOR: Thank you Fred, the correction has been made. We really appreciate you sharing the information about him, very helpful! 


Tom Lloyd January 23, 2016 5:45 pm (Pacific time)

I was stationed at El Toro as an air support control officer with a Marine Air Support Squadron from February, 1965 to January, 1966. It was a wonderful location in the heart of Orange County, a vibrant, rapidly growing area in Southern California. I too have fond memories of the camaraderie I enjoyed with fellow Marine officers. It's very sad to see that such a wonderful looking military base has fallen into disrepair and is no longer utilized. Thank you for sharing these pictures.


Julian A. Soto January 10, 2016 2:25 pm (Pacific time)

I grew up in the Laguna Canyon, in the 50' and 60's. Then the city of Irvine, outside of El Toro, consisted of a country store, gas station,cafe, small car dealership and a citrus packing shed.I was born to be a Marine. After A-school, I joined the Harrier community. Serving with VMA's -231,542 and 513. (1974-1978) Colonel James Sabow, was no stranger. He was Captain then Major Sabow to me. Legendary Marine fighter pilot, and in the top 20 Marine Harrier pilots ever. Jimmy Sabow did not commit suicide. Jimmy was charged, NJP'ed for unauthorized use of gov. aircraft. Marine way to silence and retire, senior Officers. Col. Sabow requested Courts Martial. He was going to testify on record, all he knew about non-gov. flights in and out of El Toro, in the a.m. hours. Col. Sabow was killed for this reason. 25 years later, Jimmy's reputation must be restored. One of the finest Marine Officers, I know. I am so damn proud to say: I served with Col. James Sabow. Jimmy Sabow did not commit suicide. Jimmy was no stranger, he is my brother. I Julian A. Soto, USMC, am responsible for this content.


Donna Gates Kelly January 8, 2016 2:42 pm (Pacific time)

We were stationed there in mid 60's my Dad was a Marine Helicopter pilot and we lived in the housing up on the side of the hill on Inchon. Great base had so much to do. I hate yo see this.


David Wills January 7, 2016 1:54 pm (Pacific time)

Thanks for a great article. Brought back lots of memories. I was in the old 3d MAW HQ building from '79-'82, and then at the 1st FSSG Det from '86-'89 over by the industrial area near MWSG 37, knew about some of the contamination as we tried to determine what was in all of the barrels of used solvents. Miss the runs through the orange groves and strawberry fields. Went back in 2005, sure was a sad looking base. Thanks for the pictures.


Dana Braun January 7, 2016 6:06 am (Pacific time)

I was stationed at El Toro from 1986-1989 with VMFA-314 with a brief stop at VMFA-531 between schools. Loved the base and the surrounding area. My daughter was born at Saddleback Hospital. I made some lifelong friends while there. I remember doing plane washes at zero dark thirty while working night crew. I'm sure the soap we used on the planes wasn't exactly safe. I was back in Southern California last year (2015) and went down to El Toro to see what I could see. The whole area is so different now that actually finding anything I recognized was difficult. I did find the base housing where my family and I lived, although everything is fenced off. There is a huge RV storage located on some of the flightlines, but I couldn't get close without being an actual owner of one of the RV's. Sad to see such a vibrant and well maintained base in ruins. To all my fellow Marines, Semper Fi


Paul Gregor January 6, 2016 7:01 pm (Pacific time)

I was there from 81 to86 with 214 a couple of months then to 311 tomcats my whole tour met my ex wife in same shop ordnance the story about the chemicals i so sad because there are so many of my fellow Marines that have died or have medical problems like myself the Marine Corps is doing nothing about it they are not keeping track of all the Marines and the VA is turning a blind eye to it Semper Fi Marines


Jerry Pineda January 6, 2016 6:14 pm (Pacific time)

My Dad was stationed there, we lived in there for almost 15 years. We moved 1991


jackiedienst January 6, 2016 7:14 am (Pacific time)

My dad was station there around 1966 maybe a little before that.Cause he bought a new house in El Toro in 1966.


Bud Vance January 6, 2016 6:00 am (Pacific time)

I was stationed there from 1977-1980. Like others have said, it was a beautiful place to be stationed as a young Marine. I work with the Cryogenics Crew (I believe it was HAMS-11), and we used TCE (Trichloroethylene)daily to clean oxygen components. I remember putting my bare hands into a bucket full of TCE and watching them turn white as I cleaned the parts. It's sad to see the condition of the base now, such a beautiful area to be a toxic waste land...


MollokoPlus January 6, 2016 5:44 am (Pacific time)

For years, this is where we went when we needed to see a doctor, until the rules changed in the early-mid-'60s and we could see civilian doctors. I was also at one of the last air shows held here. You also need a linguistically competent editor.


Al maggard January 4, 2016 10:33 pm (Pacific time)

All these comments are about the base years after l was there with VMF214 before Korea. Many memories, but the guys l knew are mostly gone, have lost touch with them. Too bad.


Rick Schwerdtner January 4, 2016 5:16 pm (Pacific time)

I was stationed there November 1968 - September 1969 upon my return from Chu Lai, RVN. I was with VMFA-531, MAG-33, 3rd MAW. That was the most beautiful Marine Corps base I had ever been on and to be 20 years old in what was the most scenic area of Southern California in Orange County was truly a Godsend. These pictures made me very sad as did my visit to the area twenty years ago to see all the orange groves gone and all the condos piled on top of each other. I will always be grateful for my time in the Corps and the life lessons I was taught there. I truly owe the good life I have had to the Marine Corps and Marine Corps values. Semper Fi. Corporal Schwerdtner


Erik Van Der Voort January 4, 2016 3:53 pm (Pacific time)

You might want to recheck your facts on Sabow. I know personally a fellow Marine who's career got sabotaged by Sabow and another colonel who were taking Marine assets on "golf junkets" around the country. He was the ops, snco, and had the dope on them both. Later "after" that all came out and they were confined to quarters, did Sabow shoot himself with a shotgun.The other was casiered, to my knowledge. The SNCO was, understandably very unsympathetic. To the point of annoying officers who were friends with the colonels, and also knew why. Don't bother trying to romanticize his death. He chickened out of a possible general courts marshal. Which they both should have gotten.


Perry Hillman December 31, 2015 7:04 pm (Pacific time)

Wow I never knew a nbout the chemicals. I was stationed there from 82-85. I worked the gas chamber back then. I would really like to get back on base to see what it looks like now


dennis becker December 14, 2015 8:40 pm (Pacific time)

November 1963, about the time Kennedy was shot, my first duty station out of ITR with VMGR-352 refueler squadron. I was duty driver and worked in the squadron office with sgt Kole and gysgt Gross Cpl Smoder, PFC Bob Reynolds, besides the motor pool with Pvt Franks, and Pvt. Adams, and Pvt Woodahouski. I was on wheels watch with crash crew. I stood honor guard, and fought brush fires in L.A., Life was good in the wing not like divison. We didn't have to salute in the hangers, and we didn't have to blouse our trousers, Liberty was every weekend visit Disney land and Knotts berry farm, and visit the beaches, the weather was excellent. and visits mexico. Then I got orders for 3rd MarDiv in 1965 and joined C Company 3rd Motor transport battalion in Chu Lai vietnam driving duce and a half on highway one hauling bombs off the beach head to the ammo dumb.


Robert Kaminski October 10, 2015 4:38 am (Pacific time)

This was my first duty station after A/V school in Memphis.I was with VMCJ-3 (68-69).What a beautiful base and felt so lucky to be assigned here.Those afternoons working on the flightline in that warm weather and laughing to myself for the poor souls back home(Chicago)with the snow.Everything just seemed to click there and got spoiled real fast.Southern California was the place to be in the late 60's and El Toro was right in the middle of it all.I recognize most of the places these pics are of and it just breaks my heart to see a once vibrant duty station reduced to this.


John Pavlik September 2, 2015 9:36 pm (Pacific time)

This was my first Duty station out of boot camp in 1990. I was with MWSS 374 was a 3521. I was a young kid loving life living in Ca . I work at the E club on base bouncing in the evenings and on the week end . I haven't been back there since I got out and moved back to Pittsburgh Pa . This was a beautiful base and hard to believe it now looks like it does. Anyone that was with 374 at same time leave a comment.


Marlene Crumley August 29, 2015 1:41 pm (Pacific time)

I was stationed there (WMD-1) 1968-1971. MOS was Limited Crypto Maintenance. Read about the contamination some time ago in the American Legion magazine and couldn't believe it. How could a place that was so beautiful end up like this? These photos should be up alongside photos from the time to compare.


Don Lemmon August 22, 2015 7:28 pm (Pacific time)

Stationed in El Toro for my full enlistment after school. 81-85. The plane crash into the chapel, was an old corsair or other vintage aircraft, no fighter jet though. Believe it happened in summer of '85. I was assigned to MAG-13, Aviation Supply H&MS-13. Deployed with VMA-214 and again with VMGR-352 to Okinawa and Iwakuni. Never knew of EPA issues until recently, but a sad sight to see an awesome base turn into its current look, after returning on vacations twice... in '97 and '12. Great memories, great friends, solid Marine brothers and sisters. Just praying the Good Lord keeps is all healthy not knowing details of the chemicals and toxic waste. Semper Fi my friends-


Thomas Leary Jr. August 18, 2015 9:15 am (Pacific time)

First time I came to El Toro was as an infant in 1951 the son of a career Marine and we lived in the Namar housing tract.. I went to 1st thru 3rd grade at the El Toro Marine School, two of my teachers were Mrs. Lynch and Mrs Michelson.. Later on in the late 1960's we lived in Wherry Housing at 13681 Wake Ave. My father MSGT. T.S. Leary retired from the Marine Corps in 1969. I went in the Army in 1970 and was discharged in 1973 and that same year I went to work at El Toro in the Facilities Management Dept. where I had a great career until July 1st, 1999 the day they shut the base down and locked the gate.. El Toro MCAS was the best kept secret in the Marine Corps, it was an amazing base and all of us who worked there and the Marines who were stationed there were like family..


Tim Collins August 4, 2015 7:25 am (Pacific time)

I was stationed at VMA-242 from 1986 to 1991. I knew it was contaminated (No one informed us) but not to the great extent that I know now. Overall.... was a great place to be stationed and have many great memories of it. Still keep in touch with a lot of my fellow devil dogs that shared the same spaces as I. Been by a few times over the years and it's sad to see this once thriving base now succumbing to the elements.


James Branson July 18, 2015 6:01 pm (Pacific time)

I was at El Toro in 1977 and was part of MWSG-37, amazing that I was not informed of living on a contaminated base, this a sad story as I had good memories of that base. Was sent back again in 1979 and discharged on 6/80, is there anyway to find out how to contact someone on this matter as I am 57 now and want to know when this was discovered to be a superfund site. Thank you for the pictures and the story great job.


Thomas Terrell June 30, 2015 8:04 pm (Pacific time)

Seeing MCAS El Toro as it is now made me sad. It was my 1st duty station in 1975 with the MACG38. Semper Fi


Bob Chambers May 14, 2015 6:03 am (Pacific time)

Many great memories and friendships were made in 1961 & 1962 while at MCAS EL Toro. We were training and getting ready for deployment to the far east with Marine Corps All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 542 (VMF(AW)542. I was a radio/radar technician, MOS 6611/6614. Our squadron still holds reunions and some of us remain in regular contact. A great group of guys that shared life, love, commitment and still would die for this great country. Thanks for great pictures and story on a once beautiful base. Semper Fi and may God Bless all of my Marine buddies, Bob Chambers


Lisa Hollingsworth May 12, 2015 7:08 pm (Pacific time)

My father, Lance Corp. Alfred Eugene Peterson, was aboard the C-135 that crashed into Loma Ridge shortly after takeoff from El Toro on June 25, 1965, killing all 84 men on board. We will be holding a 50th Anniversary/Memorial Unveiling Ceremony on June 27th, 2015 at the Heritage and Aviation Museum at The Great Park (the former site of MCAS El Toro). We will never forget these men.


Jerry Horner April 8, 2015 1:16 pm (Pacific time)

I was stationed there in 1976 & 1977 with VMA-311. I transferred there from Beaufort, SC. It was a beautiful base. I really enjoyed the drive to and from work down through the orange groves. They was always working those fields along the road planting tomatoes and other vegies. I worked for a great guy there named Charlie Wise. Sometimes I think it would be nice to meet some of the guys again, even the Tech Reps that worked beside of me in the office. I have forgot a lot of things over the years though.


Mark Carver March 8, 2015 1:36 am (Pacific time)

After completing school in NAS Millington I went to MCAS Santa Ana for a short time but it was pretty boring for a young 19 year old Air Traffic Controller so I asked for reassignment to EL Toro and arrived in 1977. I remember the drive to the base and the miles of orange groves I passed through along the main road leading into the base. I worked in the TRACON for two years before rotating to Iwakuni, Japan in late 1978 and I remember when I left almost all of the orange groves were gone, now filled with condos. EL Toro was lush and green and I still have photos that reveal its beauty back then. It was exciting for an Indiana farm boy to work military jets in and out of EL Toro mixing them into the commercial traffic, emergencies, accidents, NEMACS, what a time. I can't believe the way it looks now what a shame - after all it was home for two years and I loved it.


Michael Waddell January 3, 2015 3:04 pm (Pacific time)

El Toro was my first duty station out of Boot Camp, Parris Island. What a beautiful Base it was. I stationed at El Toro from 1985 - 1989 before being transfered to Okinawa, Japan. I lived and worked on the base, played at the Basketball court near the picnic area and ran the 3 mile course around the airfield everyday. Being from The Bronx. MCAS El Toro was like a fairytale come true, open air, beautiful skies and a golf course. i was there the day the plane crashed into the Base Chapel. I would write back home how i would lay on the grass at night and watch the Jets make touch and go landings in the Southern California night. that was 30 years ago. so painful to look at those pictures, when i was there it was spotless clean. i worked in Disbursing and once illustrated the cover for the base newspaper.


Ray Felton December 10, 2014 3:05 pm (Pacific time)

I lived in Wherry housing with a view of the one of the runways from June 1957 until June 1958 when my father was transferred to Kaneohe MCAS. While we lived there, we watched planes take off and land as we sat on a hill outside the base. One night while eating dinner, we watched what I think was a FJ4 Fury crash while attempting to land, something I will never forget. I went to the El Toro Marine School for fifth grade. My teacher was Mr. Rex Wenger. Used to hike up the foothill above the housing to a reservoir at the top of the ridge. You could see Saddleback Mountain from there. A great place to be a kid. Just think, there were still orange groves in Irvine!


Laura Cole November 1, 2014 4:13 pm (Pacific time)

My father and our family spent a great deal of time at El Toro. Dad was stationed there at least 2 different times or maybe 3. Mom and dad had 9 kids. He was stationed there when the 5 older ones were little and then stationed there again when the 4 youngest ones were little. It was one of my favorite places. We lived off base I believe, there were foothills and a big water tower and just neat places for kids to explore. I went to kindergarten in a Quantson hut. Then first and second grade on El Toro Elementary. There were horse stables a mile or less behind the school. I would sometimes climb the back gates of the school and go spend time with the horses and talk to the soldiers there. That is until the MPs or my mom would come get me and take me back to school. I also would sneak away and go climbing in the arroyos and "crystal canyons" as I walked to my home. Only to be again taken back to school by my mom or the MPs. El Toro was a great part of my life. I am sadden to see the disrepair it has fallen into. I was only 4 years old but I can remember sitting in our living room and seeing my mom and dad cry when Kennedy was shot. Dad was a pilot, a Lieutenant I think, when we were stationed there. I do not remember which squadron he was in at the time, I think MAG 123? I remember the painting of a big bull on the side of a building that had wings on it. He also had patches of other squadrons, I remember the Top Hat, The Rattlesnake (Death Rattler?), The Polka Dots. He may have others but not sure. Thank you for sharing this story. I see those buildings and I think of my dad and family. I see him on the run way, I see him in is pilot gear, I just have so many memories of El Toro. We have been to so many bases growing up. And while each has special memories and invoke different emotions, nothing quite touches me or my siblings like El Toro.


James Biven May 17, 2013 10:51 am (Pacific time)

Served there in 1974 (whole year). I worked in HandMS-11 but, was detailed for around a month to HandMS-37 to work in their battery locker. Anyone know which building that was in? My neighbor died in 2012 of multiple cancers that tie to the ground water pollution. He was there at least five years of his career total. Retired LTC Chemical Corps Army with 35 years. Exposed to more than just what was at El Toro in my 35 years.


chris August 27, 2012 11:58 am (Pacific time)

Great story. I was stationed on the base from 1990-92. I remembed the 1st time I entered the base via a taxi from the Joihn Wayne Airport on a summer morning. It really was a beautiful base, all things considered. -chris

Tim King: Thanks Chris!


Richard L. Matteoli April 22, 2012 6:08 am (Pacific time)

And the living returned from In Country, medically and dentally evaluated before discharge or further assignment. The control tower now is truly haunting. El Toro - 1991.

Editor: Richard L. Matteoli is a former Naval officer who also writes articles for Salem-News.com, thank you sir!

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