A long-planned $20-million war memorial at Camp Pendleton, which backers hoped would become an international attraction, has been rejected by the base commanding general despite earlier approvals by Marine Corps officials.
Lt. Gen. Robert B. Johnston has informed the Pacific Wars Memorial Foundation that it would be "ill-advised" to locate the large memorial--composed of a monument, museum, library, auditorium and parade deck--on base.
"Unfortunately, changing circumstances over the past few months have made it impossible" to allow the project at Camp Pendleton, Johnston wrote to retired Marine Lt. Gen. E.J. Miller of Carlsbad, who is foundation president.
Johnston explained there's increasing demand to use available land for military housing, newly assigned fighting and support units, and open space to meet federal and state environmental requirements.
Although expressing regret, Johnston noted he "cannot encumber available undeveloped areas aboard the base." The memorial is proposed for a gently sloping 35-acre site near the base main gate and Interstate 5.
Miller said in an interview "the project is pretty much dead," if it can't be built at Camp Pendleton. "We have no other site available."
The nonprofit foundation has worked for several years to build the memorial at Camp Pendleton, receiving approval in concept from then-Marine Corps Commandant Al Gray and Johnston's two predecessors, Brig. Gen. R.H. Huckaby and Lt. Gen. Walter Boomer.
The memorial, a tribute to all branches of the service that fought in the Pacific from World War II to Vietnam, was envisioned to equal the famed Iwo Jima Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Beside a yet-to-be-designed symbolic monument, the foundation has proposed a 30,000-square-foot museum to display military artifacts and battle scenes, a military library, and 800,000-square-feet of groves and vegetation illustrating the places where campaigns were fought.
"There's nothing else like this on the West Coast," said Miller. "It's not just a local thing, it's international in scope."
The foundation--run by former servicemen, including five retired Marine Corps generals--announced plans in November, 1989, to raise corporate and private donations for the project.
So far, about $36,000 has been spent on a feasibility study and the foundation was "just in the act of putting together a major fund-raising committee" when Johnston quashed the project, according to Miller.
Retired Maj. Randy Mitchell of Oceanside, a foundation member, said Johnston was wrong to deny the memorial, pointing out the foundation last year got a formal agreement with the base allowing the project.
"We have a memorandum of agreement with the base," Mitchell said. "As a member (of the foundation), I feel we should not give up, and continue to pursue this matter and try to change the general's mind."
There is no sign, however, that Johnston will reconsider his decision, although he has agreed to meet with Miller, Camp Pendleton spokesman Lt. Col. Fred Peck said Thursday.
Peck said the commanding general "withdrew his support" for the memorial because international and economic events "have required a change in the base master planning."
Although the base is a sprawling 125,000 acres, the 35-acre memorial site's location near the main gate and freeway access has made it better suited for construction of more military housing, according to Peck.
As of recently, "there are actual plans to build base housing there," Peck said.
The foundation wants the main gate location because of freeway access for visitors and the site's sweeping ocean view, considerations "which immediately begin to narrow the possibilities" of finding another prime site on base, Peck said.
Beside housing, Johnston's letter to Miller outlined several other reasons for turning away the memorial.
He noted that federal budget cuts are closing bases, resulting in some units being relocated to other facilities. "Presently, Camp Pendleton must accommodate relocated missions from MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station) Tustin," Johnston wrote, anticipating additional reassignments to Camp Pendleton.
The general also mentioned that state and federal environmental agencies will probably "require an ever increasing dedication of acreage" on base to protect and enhance wildlife habitat.
Further, Johnston cited a "firm executive branch policy that we charge full market value for the use of Department of the Navy lands." The foundation expected the land would be dedicated for the memorial.
Both Miller and Mitchell have met with Rep. Bill Lowery (R-San Diego) to explain the situation and seek his intervention. Lowery serves on the House Military Construction Subcommittee.
Lowery's spokeswoman, Tina Kreisher, said "he will try to bring the parties together."