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Marine general 'atones' for 1920s theft of plants from Balboa Park

General will give tree to mayor, receive orchid

One of San Diego's urban legends holds that Marines at the boot camp in the mid-1920s swiped plants from Balboa Park to help beautify the camp commander's garden.

The legend goes that the mayor happened upon the commander, Maj. Gen. Smedley Darlington Butler, two-time Medal of Honor recipient from battles in Haiti and Veracruz, Mexico, and asked him to tell his Marines to stop it.

Butler supposedly ordered all such thievery stopped before deploying in 1927 to China.

Whether the story is true or not, it makes a good bit of history.

And so on Saturday, the commander of the boot camp, Brig. Gen. James W. Bierman, made "amends" for the long-ago theft by presenting a Tecate cypress tree to Mayor Kevin Faulconer. The mayor in turn gave the general an orchid - all in a spirit of civic bonhomie.

It was at the park's "Garden Party of the Century" event, part of the park's centennial celebration.

After the exchange, Marines marched from the park across Cabrillo Bridge. A similar march occurred in 1915 during the Panama-California Exposition, credited with bringing San Diego to the attention of the world.

The 1915 march is documented. There are pictures to prove it.

tony.perry@latimes.com 

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