Camp Pendleton dominates coastal North County, from the vast amount of land it claims to its significance to the nation's defense and local economy.
But outside of Marines, how many North County residents know much about the base that sits behind the guarded gates north of Oceanside?
Thomas O'Hara, who served 40 years in the U.S. Marine Corps before retiring as a colonel in 2003, has provided an inside look at the base with his book, "Camp Pendleton" ($19.99, Arcadia Publishing).
As part of the publisher's "Image of America" series, the 128-page book is mostly pictures and captions, beginning with a portrait of Maj. Gen. Joseph Henry Pendleton himself. Known as "Uncle Joe," Pendleton pioneered Marine Corps activities in Southern California from 1878 to 1924.
The book's history goes back even further, though. The introduction tells of Pio Pico, the last Mexican governor of California, receiving a 133,441-acre land grant in 1841 for what today is Camp Pendleton. Pico and his brother, Andreas, sold their shares to their English brother-in-law, John Forster, to pay off their gambling debts.
Cattleman James Flood bought the property after Forster died in 1882. The Camp Pendleton logo, a "T" on top of an "O," originally was the brand used on Flood's cattle.
As Japan became a threat in the Pacific during the 1930s, the Marine Corps began looking for additional military sites in Southern California. In 1942, the U.S. Navy announced the purchase of Rancho Santa Margarita y Los Flores, the land that would become Camp Pendleton.
O'Hara, an El Toro resident who works as curator of the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, said the Marines' arrival at the base was one of the more amusing anecdotes he discovered in his research.
"They marched from Camp Elliot (Kearny Mesa) to Camp Pendleton," he said. "It was a several-day effort, and once they got there, there was supposed to be this big ceremony. The base commanding general was supposed to give a big speech. They finally got to Camp Pendleton, and the general was hours late. And once he got there, as reported by one of the people there, he gave the worst speech in the history of speeches."
In his six months of research, O'Hara discovered a variety of exciting photos of Marine activities and training exercises. One of his favorites, an amphibious vehicle in the water in front of a Navy ship, is on the book's cover.
"That's the real Marine Corps," he said. "Grunts on AAVs (amphibious assault vehicles), headed ship to shore or shore to ship. That's the heart of the Marine Corps."
Many other photos in the book are mundane by comparison, but still of interest. Camp Pendleton is its own city, with firehouses, stores, chapels, a bowling alley and billiards center, rodeo grounds, horse stables, a hobby shop and even a golf course, known as one of the best on any military facility.
Visitors to Oceanside Harbor may not realize that just over the fence to north is Camp Del Mar, which has amphibious vehicles, schools, base housing and its own marina, where families can rent boats and take sailing lessons.
By showing both military training and recreational activities at the base, O'Hara said he hopes the book will give people a greater understanding of life at Camp Pendleton.
"It's not a walk in the park," he said about the training.
Then again, O'Hara is a little amused at the perks available on base these days, and he included a photo of a drive-through stand that serves cappuccino and pastries as an example.
"I came to the Marine Corps in 1963," he said. "They didn't have a lot of amenities. The Marine Corps isn't too big on personal niceties. When they put that thing up, I thought it was funny. What's the Marine Corps coming to?"