Prairie Oysters Didn’t Fly at El Toro Marine Base

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Times Staff Writer

This story contains a lot of bull.

Part of it came to light Thursday, with the unveiling of plans to revive a snippet of Marine Corps history at the Orange County Great Park.

But the tale begins in 1943, when military officials asked Walt Disney to design an insignia based on the name of the new El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.

They got more bull than they bargained for.

Uncle Walt, who had created a number of military logos, drew a snarling bovine with wings, a nose ring and a Marine Corps tattoo. The bull was also extremely anatomically correct.


“The Marine Corps is a pretty raunchy group, so I’m sure nobody was offended,” said Tom O’Hara, who wrote a history of the El Toro base.

Nevertheless, the cow cojones soon vanished. The original version, a macho alter ego to Disney’s Ferdinand the Bull character, probably didn’t pass muster with the U.S. Navy’s insignia review panel, he said.

Several other changes were also made. The final bull had Orphan Annie-style eyes, whereas the original had pupils. And the Marine Corps emblem tattoo by the bull’s wing disappeared.

E.S. “Mule” Holmberg, a retired Marine captain who has published two books on military insignia, said the eye and tattoo alterations were probably done to simplify the design.

Eliminating details makes it easier and cheaper to mass produce a patch, he said. The gender-neutral, albino-eyed bull served as El Toro’s mascot until the air station closed in 1999.

Now, as part of a plan to convert the former military base to a park, the emasculated bovine is being resurrected.


“We want to memorialize that emblem,” said Ken Smith, master designer for the Orange County Great Park.

The reconstituted bull will probably appear near a planned military museum. It could be a mosaic, a flower sculpture or even something with “an inter-active water feature,” Smith said.

“Maybe we’ll have steam come out of its nose,” he said.

When asked for his opinion of a floral flying bull, Holmberg, who was stationed at El Toro in 1951, was nearly speechless.

“Flowers?” he said. “No comment.”