It required several attempts for us to gain access to Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps base in San Diego County, California. Civilians are denied entrance during any “world conflict” or “police action”. In other words, war.
During one narrow window when our country was not involved in a war, we joined the line of vehicles at the main gate at Oceanside. All the vehicles ahead of us were waved through. The guard directed us to “Pull out, park over there, and register inside.”
We explained that we wanted to see four historical points of interest dating from 1769 to 1864 within the boundaries of Camp Pendleton for our book in progress. We presented a valid driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance to receive a self-guiding tour pass.
“Stay on the main road, and do not drive on dirt roads,” the young man ordered.
We thought it humorous to see “Troop Crossing” and “Tank Crossing” signs until sprinting troops and fast-rolling tanks suddenly appeared on the dirt roads intersecting the main road.
With our self-guiding map, it was easy to locate the El Camino Real bell, the 1798 Santa Margarita Ranch House (now private quarters), Las Flores Asistencia (1823), Las Flores Adobe (1864), and La Cristianita (1769).
During another narrow window when our country was not involved in a “police action”, we approached the main gate at Beale Air Force Base near Marysville, California, with trepidation. Beale is the home of the U-2 reconnaissance aircraft and the supersonic SR-71 Blackbird. It is unlikely we’ll be allowed on this base.
Ours was the only vehicle in sight for miles. I gathered our vehicle registration and proof of insurance ready to hand over. We explained to the young guard at the gate that we wanted to see three historical sites for our book in progress. With a salute, he waved us through. No questions. No permits. He must have thought we were someone else.
We saw no people anywhere. Jet aircraft sat on the flightline like ghostly big birds. Everything looked frozen in time. A security vehicle approached.
Uh, oh. Now we’ll have to leave, I thought.
It cruised by ignoring us.
We learned from experience to ask for directions at a firehouse and stopped at the nearest one. Firefighters know the location of everything and the best way to get there. This was no exception.
The officer in charge welcomed us in through a large room where men napped in lounge chairs. He supplied us with maps detailing the sites we sought. He must have thought we were someone else.
We considered ourselves fortunate to have easily found the Museum of the Forgotten Warriors, the World War II German Prisoner of War cell blocks, and A Gathering of Eagles 1963 film site.
Two days later, after exploring the area outside the base, we planned to drive the shortcut through the middle of the base instead of the circuitous route around to the other side.
“Sorry, sir,” a different guard said. “You’ll have to turn around here.”