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On the set of "Sand of Iwo Jima": Three surviving members of the Marines six-man combat team who raised the American flag on Mt. Suribachi will act the parts of the dead flag raisers. From left to right: Pfc. John Leist, John Bradley, Pfc. Donald J. Binsbacher, Rene Gagnon, Pfc. Leroy Gillispie and Ira Hayes (July 26, 1949). Courtesy photo
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Camp Pendleton: The perfect place to shoot a war flick

CAMP PENDLETON — Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton may be roughly 100 miles from Hollywood, but it has much in common with Tinseltown.

Over the years more than 100 films have been filmed in San Diego.

Some scenes from the popular 1986 Tom Cruise film “Top Gun” were filmed in other San Diego County cities such as Oceanside, but Camp Pendleton can claim some of its own bragging rights when it comes to Hollywood movies.

Filming of the movie, “MacArthur”, aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton (1972-1973). Courtesy photo

The earliest movie filmed at Camp Pendleton was “War Dogs” in 1942 and the most recent was “Battle Los Angeles” in 2011, according to officials at Camp Pendleton.

“We are being proactive in our efforts to reintroduce the Entertainment Media Liaison Office to the film industry since it was closed in Los Angeles and relocated to Camp Pendleton in 2016,” Master Sgt. Katesha Washington, Marine Corps Entertainment Media Liaison Office, said. “Since moving down to Camp Pendleton, the office has seen a major increase in requests from producers around the world to film at Camp Pendleton.”

Picture perfect

Thanks to its 17 miles of coastline and wide-open spaces, Camp Pendleton has appeared in a many early Hollywood accounts of World War II battles, including: “The Sands of Iwo Jima” (1949) and “Guadalcanal Diary” (1943).

When John Wayne stormed “The Sands of Iwo Jima” as the classic American soldier, he was really racing up a hill at Camp Pendleton.

Filming of the movie, “MacArthur”, aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton (1972-1973). Courtesy photo

Considered the most popular movie about World War II, “The Sands of Iwo Jima” gave Wayne his first Academy Award nomination. The movie’s Battle of Iwo Jima was re-staged at Camp Pendleton, according to officials.

It was directed by Allan Dwan and: “Filming required the cast to go through a three-day training by a tough Marine sergeant selected by Gen. Graves Serskine.

Political struggle for funding and survival inspired the Marne Corps to support the film.

“The movie was an enormous success securing several Academy Awards nominations including Wayne’s for best actor. Workers built plaster palm trees, pillboxes, gun emplacements, laid thousands of feet of barbed wire. One Marine extra reported Camp Pendleton’s beach was covered with asbestos to simulate Iwo Jima’s volcanic sand. Actual newsreel war footage blended into the film’s battle scenes.”

Another popular film made at Camp Pendleton was “Heartbreak Ridge” (1986) starring Clint Eastwood. The Marines initially planned to use the movie to help promote their Toys for Tots campaign and general recruitment.

However, after the screenings, both the Department of Defense and Marines withdrew support of the film for language and dissatisfaction with the way the Marines were portrayed, according to Camp Pendleton officials.

Other films made at Camp Pendleton include: “Gung Ho: The Story of Carlson’s Makin Island Raiders” (1943); “Salute to the Marines” (1943); “Winged Victory” (1944); “Hills of Montezuma” (1951); “Flying Leathernecks” (1951); “Retreat Hell” (1952); “Battle Cry” (1955); “The D.I.” (1957), “The Outsider” (1961); “To The Shores of Hell” (1966); “First to Fight” (1967); “Baby Blue Marine” (1976); “MacArthur” (1977); “Midway” (1976); “Rules of Engagement” (2000); and “Green Dragon” (2001).

Actor John Wayne with unidentified Marines during the filming of the movie, “The Sands of Iwo Jima” (June 1949). Courtesy photo

Why Pendleton?

Of all places in California one might wonder why Camp Pendleton is such a great place for filming military films other than the obvious.

According to Master Sgt. Washington, Pendleton is ideal for filming due to the numerous environmental resources, Marine Corps equipment and assets. 

“There are many different types of weapon systems, aircraft and vehicles available to filmmakers who are interested in using these assets to inform and educate the public about the roles and missions, history, operations, and training of the United States Marine Corps,” she said.

Filming of the movie, “MacArthur”, aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton (1972-1973). Courtesy photo

And when a film crew comes out, everybody pretty much stays on base.

“It is important for film crews to contact the Marine Corps Entertainment Media Liaison Office to ensure they are provided proper access to the base prior to arrival,” she said. “Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton takes the security of personnel and their families very serious and have processes in place to prevent unauthorized persons from accessing the base.”

As for future films, she said there are some that are in the works for 2019 scheduled to be filmed at Camp Pendleton including documentaries and television shows.

“However, we are currently assessing scripts for motion pictures that have not yet been approved for Marine Corps support,” she said.

1 comment

eric s anderson January 12, 2019 at 3:32 pm

Hearthbreak Ridge starring Clint Eastwood was also film aboard Camp Pendleton. In 1986 they filmed at 62 area- Camp San Mateo. I was stationed on a regimental working party with B Co. 1st Battalion 7th Marines and we cleaned out the obstacle course that contained years of weed growth. We cleaned it for hours and made it pretty but when I saw the movie they had filled it with water.

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