LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION; CAMP PENDLETON’S HISTORY IN THE MOVIES

With its vast training areas and prime location along California’s shorelines, Camp Pendleton is well known for producing the finest fighting forces on the West Coast. What Camp Pendleton might be less known for, however, is that it has been a backdrop to some of America’s most famous films. Throughout Camp Pendleton’s history, multiple movie producers have utilized its training grounds over Hollywood sets to recreate authentic war scenes of our Country’s most famous battles.

“[Working with the entertainment industry] gives us an opportunity to showcase assets and capabilities that are available to production companies,” said U.S. Marine Corps Master Sgt. Katesha Washington, Entertainment Media Liaison Office (EMLO). “It allows us also to accomplish our mission of telling the story of Marines.”

Camp Pendleton has an ongoing story to tell that continues each day. Since the base opened, over 20 films have been produced including “Sands of Iwo Jima,” starring, John Wayne. During the filming which also cast 2,000 Marines, producers transformed the installation to resemble the Japanese island also using elements to resemble the volcanic ash from Mt. Suribachi. Additional familiar titles include TNT’s television series, “The Last Ship,” and Columbia Media Corporation’s, “Battle Los Angeles.”

With access to starstruck active-duty Marines and their familiar training grounds, producers are able to create authentic scenes without a need to hire actors or build sets in some cases. But the Marine Corps does not merely reduce production costs without some benefit. In giving Marines opportunities to share the limelight with some of their favorite characters, the Marine Corps legacy is captured by telling its stories and reaching an audience, they might not typically reach.

For over a century, the Marine Corps has helped producers, writers and directors coordinate personnel, aircraft and equipment. “There are several steps leading up to filming a production,” said U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Matthew Hilton, also with the EMLO. “We figure out how and if we can or cannot support.”

There have been countless stories told and countless stories yet to be told when it comes to Camp Pendleton’s rich history and tradition. Watching the actions of its Marines and Sailors come to life on the big screen, both fictionally and non-fictionally only serves to preserve the Marine Corps heritage and real-life activities. And remember, the next time you watch your favorite action film, it just might have been filmed on the one and only Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.

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25 thoughts on “LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION; CAMP PENDLETON’S HISTORY IN THE MOVIES”

  1. I was active duty during the making of Heartbreak Ridge starring Clint Eastwood. Although I never saw any of the filming, they did film at 1st MarDiv Headquarters in Mainside, Camp Pendleton where I reported to everyday.

    1. I was also there when they filmed Heartbreak Ridge. I was stationed at Corrections Bn. They filmed two scenes inside the facility. A Colonel, Sgt. and Corporal in my unit got to be in the movie. Also got to meet Clint Eastwood. Even though it’s fictional it’s one of my favorite movies.

  2. Camp Pendleton & San Diego were way tougher assignment & training places than that other place in the East!!! Tee Hee!

    1. leave it to a HOLLYWOOD MARINE TO POST A REPLY LIKE THAT. . SUNSHINE ,HALF NAKED NATIVIES SKATE BOARDING,ECT.,BE A REAL JARHEAD ,SURVIVE A FULL FLEDGE SAND FLEA ATTACK,AFTER MID DAY CHOW WHEN THE RED FLAG IS HANGING LIMP.SAND FLEA ATTACK SURVIVOR JOE LEASHEFSKI

      1. Hey I live in S.C. now & I go down to P.I. once in awhile to see the new guys graduate. Of course the 3 or 4 other Marines that go with me our P.I. grads! Hey you guys had ocean view apts., got to swin in the ocean anytime you wanted! I went to your officers mess hall, napkins, table cloths, Wow! Now we had tough D.I.’s, had to get up early, lived in quonset huts, I mean life was hard for a “Hollywood Marine”. No beer till after 6 p.m., no HBO till after week #24, I mean really tough!

  3. I was Stationed on Camp Pendleton at the H&SCo 2nd Inf Trng Regt MCB -Disbursing Section and early in around Christmas time in 1954 we learned that they were looking for volunteers to form a choir that would sing at the filming of a Movie “Battle Cry” So I along with others made up a choir and when the time came we were filmed as a group in a scene where we saw Van Heflin, Aldo Ray and James Whitmore. We were drowned out by a record that was done professionally and they really couldn’t even hear us, but I wrote home to brag about being in the Battle Cry scene. My Girlfriend wrote back that she saw the film 3 times but couldn’t find me. When I finally saw the film I found that I was on the end of the group and they cut me off. So ended my movie career, but it was still interesting and when I watch the move occasionally I value the fact that I was there, guess no one else knows about me being there anymore, but I was and perhaps there are still people out there that were also there in the end of 1954. Soon to be 84 and still a Marine Semper Fi

  4. I was stationed at Pendleton when they filmed the movie Baby Blue Marine in the mid 70s, and lived in the old WWII barracks on the hill, I don’t think they are there anymore. It was a great place to serve, I was at HQ Co., HQ Bn. G-2.

  5. The film First To Fight with Chad Everett and Dean Jagger was being filmed at Pendleton in the summer of 1966 when I was there for ITR. My outfit actually met both men and we were in a very long shot, very long, in the picture. How long….very long.

  6. when leaving San Diego MCRD, one heads to Camp Pendleton to become a true HOLLYWOOD MARINE !!! Semper Fi are the uniforms pink ??

  7. I remember the filming of ‘Sands of Iwo Jima’ in 1948. At the time, I was with Comm. Sect. BLT-6. Most of the Marines in the landings were from BLT-7, but some of us from the 6th also took part. One of my buddies (PFC Goodenough) got some good screen time. He is the radioman with the SCR-300 at the Tarawa beach. The officer with the handlebar mustache is LtCol. Crowe. He was our Bn. C.O. and played himself. The Tarawa beachhead/wall were constructed at Aliso Beach (designated Red Beach in most of our practice landings), I believe it’s officially called Red Beach now. Later, around 1951/52, they filmed ‘Retreat, Hell’. The hills along Vandegrift between main gate and 24 Area were whitened to simulate snow.

  8. “There are only green Marines.” At least that’s what our DI’s told us. When in boot 🥾 camp at San Diego we were in Quonset huts. The obstacle course was just across the road. Every weekend the Hollywood starlets would be bused in to visit and dance with all the recruits in training… Now no one in his right mind would believe that c—p about visiting starlets, but those were the ways to tell one another who had it the toughest. Camp Pendleton in the early to mid 50’s had great terrain features for training. When you got to your next duty station (usually Korea) you at least could hump with the best in your squad, platoon and company. From the scuttle butt Camp Gieger (sp) was just as tough. When you returned form your overseas duty you were usually, unless in a supply, motor T or administrative MOS, sent to Regimental areas in outlying parts of Pendleton. One story, flat roofed concrete squad bays. Hot as hell in summer and uncomfortably cool, to cold, in winter. Haven’t been back since the late 50’s, and not planning to return any time soon, so things could be much different now….most likely is! Gung Ho…don’t remember Ugh-Guh, or however it goes.

  9. The video should have added a clip from Heartbreak Ridge. Most of that movie was filmed on Pendleton. I had to go salute the flag at base headquarters when I arrived there in 88, same spot as Eastwood did in the movie. LOL. Also, I’m a Parris Island Marine, but I toured MCRD San Diego. I’m going to say that I would have gone mental watching planes land constantly with tourists while in basic training. That would be torture in it’s own way.

  10. Platoon 136 in 1963 was used to film and episode of “The Lieutenant” starring Gary Lockwood and Rip Torn. It finally came out on DVD and I actually got to see myself marching with Rip Torn. Gary Lockwood was in our quonset hut waiting for several takes leaving it. We were polishing our shoes at the time. Gary played a recruit undercover and Rip Torn was a DI. Later on I happened to be at MCRD when the filmed the opening of Gomer Pyle.

  11. After boot camp in P I . I was shipped out to Camp Pendleton for ITR and Cold WEATHER TRAININGin the Serra Nevada Mts. Then to Japan.3rdMar.Div,9thMarines,1Batt.Alfa co 3rd Plat. North Camp Fugiama. One thing I notice in these films.ESPECIALLY Tom Hanks and Stevan Spielberg Marine Corp Movie! Was that the Marine Corp Hymn was never played. Now one of the proudest moments in my life. Was graduating boot camp as a United States Marine and marching to the Marine Corp Hymn! And these idiots didn’t play it at all. I am 81 and I still get chills when I hear it. And so does every former Marine I know! Pass this on to those two morons and they owe every Marine a apology for that!!

  12. I was in C-1-1-1 at Camp San Mateo at Camp Pendleton in the latter part of 1958 when they needed a platoon or more to serve as background in a scene from ‘Gallant Hours ‘, the story of Admiral Halsey starring James Cagney. The scene was where Halsey came to Guadacanal…after the fighting to tell the Marines what a great job they had done.The filming of that little scene took two weeks. They filmed it down in a dried creak bed…..talk about boring…..but they fed us from ‘ their ‘ Geedunk ‘ wagons and boy, that was that food good. Oh…I got some good scene time. My brother said my Mother jumped out of her seat at the movie theater when she saw me.

  13. I work part time at a nursing home and being a Marine myself (1972-1974) I get to talk to the older Marines there. Wow, what a bond we have. We always joke, how many guys do you think joined the Marines just because then seen Gomer Pyle on TV.

  14. When they were filming “Battle Cry,” they asked any of the Oriental-looking Marines to become extras as Japs. The guys lorded that over the rest of us until filming began. Seems they ran the guys up and down the slopes till their asses dragged. About ’55, I was liason from PIO to film crew filming amphibious scenes for the flick “Away All Boats.”

  15. I can remember the movie “Battle Cry” with Van Heflin and James Whitmore. I’m not sure if it was before or after, didn’t Van Heflin have a role in “Shane” ? I surmise Joe McCarthy (Sen.) did his job well as Van Heflin was one of “Tail Gunner Joe’s” targets in his pursuit of communism. The movie, Battle Cry, was that about Saipan ? Also, (I can’t remember the name ,, another WWll movie with Richard Boone and Jack Webb. It was about Japanese use of rockets.

  16. That was “Halls of Montezuma”. With Richard Widmark. I had forgotten that one. I just did a search on Yahoo and looked at Photos of movies. What trip down memory lane!!

  17. Going thru I T R in August at Camp Pendleton equals going thru Boot Camp at P I Experienced both – MCRD San Diego 1951 – MCRD Parris Island – 1953-54 – Try snuggling up to a big hairy spider or rattlesnake at Camp Pendleton – Sure beats the little Sand Fleas I Remember seeing the “snow covered mountains “along Vandergrift Blvd during the filming of “Retreat Hell’
    Never got into the movies as an extra – – – Damn – missed my big screen break.

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