IRVINE, Calif., Nov. 6, 2010 /PRNewswire/ -- Veterans Day was celebrated early for Marines and others who were among the first to live and work at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) El Toro. World War II-era Marines, families and base workers gathered today at the Orange County Great Park to be honored at the 2010 El Toro Homecoming. The event paid tribute to those who shared and documented their lives and memories through the Great Park Oral History Project, a collaboration between the Orange County Great Park Corporation and Center for Oral and Public History at California State University, Fullerton.
"This oral history project explores the role of the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in the transformation of Orange County in the years after World War II," said Dr. Natalie Fousekis, Director of Cal State Fullerton's Center for Oral and Public History. "At the center of this history are the voices and memories of the men and women who served and worked at the base as well as the members of the surrounding community who participated in and witnessed these dramatic changes."
The 2/11 Marine Corps Color Guard launched the day's salute. Orange County Great Park Board Chair Larry Agran heralded the festivities by introducing each narrator by name and their rank or duty at the base. Three of the narrators in attendance were:
- Captain Dick Ferree was stationed at MCAS El Toro from 1959-61 after joining the Marines during his junior year of college, and spent the majority of his time at El Toro. Following his time in the Marine Corps he spent nine years in Chicago until his business moved him to Fullerton, California, where he lived for twenty-five years. He currently resides in Newport Beach.
- Born in 1935, Samuel Romero, Marine sergeant and community activist, has spent his entire life in Santa Ana's Logan Barrio. He served in the Marine Corps from 1956-62, when he was able to work at the base while living at home. Described as the conscience of Santa Ana, Romero has spent the last twenty-five years standing up for equality for all people.
- Captain Clarence Nelson joined the United States Marine Corps immediately following the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was stationed at El Toro in 1945 when he first met Technical Sergeant Vera Gilpin. Clarence and Vera served in Air Base Group-2 and also did a stint in special services where he sang and she played the accordion at local bond rallies. Clarence was already married, and Vera became engaged soon after the war ended. They met again in 1997 after the death of both their spouses. Clarence and Vera found love a second time and married shortly thereafter. The two Marines currently live in Oceanside, California.
"The El Toro Homecoming is a very special way to remember and honor those who have served on this hallowed ground," said Larry Agran, Chair, Orange County Great Park Corporation. "The lives of these men and women are now interwoven into the fabric and history of the Great Park."
Honorees and guests reminisced with friends at lunch next to historic airplane Hangar 244 and were treated to great big band music and dancing by Pete Jacobs and his Radio Wartime Review. They also enjoyed an oral history performance titled, "Unsung Heroes," delivered by California State University, Fullerton students.
Now in its third year, the Oral History Project has so far conducted 300 interviews from 1942 to 1964, starting at a time from when the U.S. military broke ground on the former Irvine Ranch lima bean field and Orange County's population was less than 150,000. The project will ultimately include interviews up to the base closure in 1999, when the county housed more than 2.9 million residents and had undergone a sweeping transformation, to the present transition from a Marine Corps Station to the Orange County Great Park.
Those who served El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, or have fond memories of the former base and would like to participate in the Oral History Project, please call 657-278-8415 or e-mail [email protected] For more information about the Oral History Project please go to http://coph.fullerton.edu/
About the Great Park
The Orange County Great Park, with its 1,347-acre master plan, is the focal point of the redevelopment of the publicly-owned portion of the 4,700-acre former Marine Corps Air Station, El Toro. The Great Park is currently 27.5 acres and includes an iconic tethered helium balloon that rises 400 feet in the air, providing an aerial view of Park development. A $70 million development plan to expand the Park to more than 200 acres is currently underway. The plan will build out a core section of the Park for the most immediate and wide-ranging public benefit, including the initial components of the sports park, a 114-acre agricultural area, and an art and culture exhibition space. For more information, please go to www.ocgp.org
SOURCE Orange County Great Park