Camp Pendleton

Camp Pendleton is bordered on the west by General Boothe Boulevard, on the east by the Atlantic Ocean, on the south by NAS Oceana Dam Neck Annex - and by residential subdivisions northwest of Lake Christine
Camp Pendleton is bordered on the west by General Boothe Boulevard, on the east by the Atlantic Ocean, on the south by NAS Oceana Dam Neck Annex - and by residential subdivisions northwest of Lake Christine
Source: US Geological Survey (USGS), Virginia Beach 7.5x7.5 topographic map (2013)

The units of the Virginia Volunteers, also known as "light infrantry" in some communities, were the post-Civil War equivalent of the Virginia militia units that dated back to the 1600's. In a time when local sheriffs had few resources, the governor dispatched one or more units of the Virginia Volunteers when riots broke out. Those volunteer units were self-organized and self-funded, and their capabilities to handle different challenges were revealed during the Spanish-American War.

After passage of the Militia Act of 1903, the Federal government gradually assumed greater responsibility for funding volunteer units in the states. New Federal training standards required Virginia to provide a site for a two-week summer camp for military education, drill, and other training. In 1912, a 400-acre State Rifle Range was established in Virginia Beach, on the Atlantic Ocean beach just south of Rudee Inlet. It served as the primary training site for the Virginia Volunteers, which were known after 1916 as the Virginia National Guard.1

The Virginia Beach site was located in an agricultural area where the price of land was low and there were few neighbors to complain about the noise of rifle practice. It was also conveniently close to a railroad.

The US Navy used the site between 1917-1919. The Navy preferred Camp Pendleton over Fort Eustis for coastal artillery training in World War I, because the artillery could shoot over the undeveloped Atlantic Ocean waterfront without worrying about objections by landowners on the "receiving" end.

The state reclaimed the site at the end of World War I, and expanded it to to 876 acres in part by by purchasing land east of Lake Christine. After the state moved the rifle range, space was available for additional training exercises, and the facility was called the State Military Reservation after 1928. Between 1922-1942, the site was known by the name of the current governor of Virginia - Camp Trinkle, Camp Byrd, etc.

During World War II, the base was Federalized again, this time for use by the US Army. It constructed barracks, because training would occur year-round rather than just in the summer months when soldiers could stay in tents. The US Army named the facility Camp Pendleton, which honors Brig. Gen. William Nelson Pendleton.2

Brig. Gen. William Nelson Pendleton was Robert E. Lee's chief of artillery during the Civil War, as well as an Episcopalian minister at Grace Church in Lexington. Early in his Confederate career, Pendleton named the cannon in his 4-gun battery of the Rockbridge Artillery after the "canon" of the New Testament - Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John. His performance as Lee's artillery chief for the Army of Northern Virginia was less-than-stellar, especially at the Battle of Shepherdstown during the withdrawal after Antietam. In 1864, Lee eased him into a position where Pendleton retained his title but did not actually control the Confederate artillery.3

200 tents housed the 116th Infantry Regiment during training at Camp Pendleton in 1938
200 tents housed the 116th Infantry Regiment during training at Camp Pendleton in 1938
Source: Norfolk Public Library Sargeant Memorial Collection, National Guardsmen Training at Camp Pendleton - Virginia Beach, VA

(Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in California was named after Major General Joseph H. Pendleton, a Marine Corps general born in Pennsylvania who advocated creating a Marine Corps training base on the West Coast to complement the Quantico and Parris Island facilities on the East Coast.)4

During the Cold War, the US Army needed larger locations than Camp Pendleton to train larger units, and National Guard training operations moved to places such as Fort Pickett and Fort A.P. Hill. The Commonwealth of Virginia sold 567 acres of Camp Pendleton to the City of Virginia Beach for municipal and recreational purposes, with the last sale in 2008. The state has retained 330 acres, including the high-value waterfront acreage where the US Navy conducted amphibious training exercises between 1947-1969.5

Virginia governors have used Camp Pendleton as a retreat from the capital in Richmond, comparable to how Camp David in Maryland is used by the US president. Governor McDonnell proposed selling the governor's cottage in 2010 during an economic recession, but no action was taken.

Visits by governors have rarely attracted attention, but there were two exceptions. When Governor Godwin was attending the Democratic National Convention in August, 1968 in Chicago, his 15-year old daughter Becky was struck by lightning and killed on the beach at Camp Pendleton. Governor Robb's visits became controversial after it was revealed he had attended parties at Virginia Beach where illegal drugs were used.6

Today, Camp Pendleton serves as a vacation retreat, with cottages and trailers for rent to people with a valid military ID (as well as the governor). The Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy, part of the National Guard's program to help at-risk teens and high school dropouts, uses the facility as a residential camp.

One option for the future is to convert the site from a military base into a state park. However, the public already has adequate access to oceanfront beaches, and both Seashore State Park and False Cape State Park are nearby. Another option is to transfer Camp Pendleton to the US Navy, incorporating it into NAS Oceana Dam Neck Annex. The Virginia Commission on Military Installations and Defense Activities made that recommendation in 2013, as part of its package of proposals to retain Federal bases in Virginia despite downsizing of the military after the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.7

governor's cottage Camp Pendleton
governor's cottage Camp Pendleton
Source: Virginia Department of Historical Resources, Camp Pendleton (134-0413)

Links

References

1. "Serving Commonwealth and Country," Virginia National Guard, http://vko.va.ngb.army.mil/VirginiaGuard/history/overview.html#transformation (last checked June 21, 2014)
2. "Camp Pendleton/State Military Reservation Historic District" nomination form to National Register of Historic Places, http://www.dhr.virginia.gov/registers/Cities/VirginiaBeach/134-0413_CampPendleton_2005_Final_Nomination.pdf (last checked June 21, 2014)
3. "William Nelson Pendleton (1809–1883)," Encyclopedia Virginia, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Pendleton_William_Nelson_1809-1883#start_entry' "‘A Stupid Old Useless Fool’," Civil War Times, April 30, 2008, http://www.historynet.com/a-stupid-old-useless-fool.htm (last checked June 21, 2014)
4. "History," Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, http://www.pendleton.marines.mil/About/HistoryandMuseums.aspx (last checked June 21, 2014)
5. "Virginia Beach moves to buy Camp Pendleton plot," The Virginian-Pilot, October 29, 2008, http://hamptonroads.com/2008/10/virginia-beach-moves-buy-camp-pendleton-plot; "Camp Pendleton/State Military Reservation Historic District" nomination form to National Register of Historic Places, http://www.dhr.virginia.gov/registers/Cities/VirginiaBeach/134-0413_CampPendleton_2005_Final_Nomination.pdf (last checked June 21, 2014)
6. "For sale: Gubernatorial cottage in Virginia Beach," The Virginian-Pilot, April 29, 2010, http://hamptonroads.com/2010/04/sale-gubernatorial-cottage-virginia-beach; "Dead Senator Running?," Salon, November 17, 1999, http://www.salon.com/1999/11/17/robb/ (last checked June 21, 2014)
7. "State report: Virginia should embrace BRAC," The Virginian-Pilot, March 5, 2014, http://hamptonroads.com/2014/03/report-virginia-should-embrace-brac (last checked June 21, 2014)

the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center is just west of Camp Pendleton
the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center is just west of Camp Pendleton
Source: City of Virginia Beach, Center for Geospatial Information Services


Military Bases in Virginia
The Military in Virginia
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