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San Clemente Island
Chronological Military History (1934-2000)

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The airfield was transferred from NUC to NAS, North Island and established as a Naval Auxiliary Landing Field (NALF). 1     NUC continued to administer the bulk of the island facilities.

Carrier-deck lighting was installed at the airfield which greatly increased the importance and utilization of the field. Since then, Navy and Marine Corps squadrons have used the island to practice carrier landings. Navy, Marine and Air Force planes also conduct ground control approach (GCA), and normal landing and take-off training. 35

On September 2, Teledyne-Ryan of San Diego, in concert with the Pacific Missile Test Center (PMTC) and VC-3, successfully launched a BQM/SSM "Firebee" (Model 248) missile from a C-130 aircraft, to impact a surface ship target, the decommissioned destroyer USS Butler, stationed off of the island. The launch was made from about 5000 feet. Then the drone missile was brought down to 220 feet, then to 75 feet, and then to 35 feet for the final run at the target. At the last instant, it was guided down to 20 feet for a perfect hit on the bridge of the "Butler". 21

On November 23, the new search and surveillance radar station at Mount Thirst was dedicated. This new system would provide more adequate coverage and coordination of the more than 8,000 offshore exercises that are scheduled each year. Radar contacts from as far away as 200 miles from San Clemente Island would be microwaved to radar consoles manned by radar and aircontroller personnel at the Fleet Area Control and Surveillance Facility (FACSFAC) at North Island NAS. 15

The U. S. Army 19th Artillery Group (Air Defense) had a detachment located adjacent to the FACSFAC radar. This group utilized the FACSFAC radar to cover a blind spot west of SCI for air defense radar at Fort McArthur. 37

A civilian group headed by a U.S. Congressman, Rep. Glenn M. Anderson (D. Calif) and including the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the state Department of Fish and Game, the Marine Parks and Harbor Association, and others, attempted to obtain civilian yachting access to Pyramid Cove. The island is a part of Los Angeles county, although it is located southwest of the county boundary. This group suggested that the Navy could move their bombardment range to San Nicolas Island. It also recommended that the old airfield could be renovated for civilian aircraft use, while possibly including a restaurant at the terminal. They also suggested that the size of the island would be able to accommodate between 5000-7000 civilians. The Navy was reluctant, and through Sen. Alan Cranston (D. Calif), the word was passed that "the Navy does not intend to abandon the island, and as a matter of fact will be transferring some additional operations to the island as it closes down other mainland facilities." This attempt was unsuccessful.


The Naval Undersea Center (NUC) shore and underwater facilities were established for submarine launched guided missiles.

NUC initiated monitoring, and management, of the natural and cultural resources on San Clemente Island. 17

Fleet Composite Squadron 3 (VC3), inaugurated their new island operations and support facilities, by cutting a ribbon with the launching of an MQM-74 target drone. VC-3 launched jet target drones for surface ship target practice from the old deactivated airfield south of Wilson Cove. These operations were conducted for 50 weeks a year with a complement of 15 personnel. In December, VC-3 celebrated the achievement of launching its 1000th MQM-74A target drone, setting a new record. This particular launch was in support of the USS Mason. 14


Early this year, the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) established a research site at the Photo Lab area consisting of four Pascoe buildings (60223 thru 60226), a radar platform, and a helicopter platform. This project, known as "Non-Such", was investigating "Over The Horizon" radars. The installed radar was an FPS-16 long-wave type. This project was abandoned late in the year. The original helicopter platform, constructed by Kaman Aircraft Corp., is still intact under a warehouse facade, and is now known as Bldg. 602275. It is now used for storage. The other four buildings are intact, and are presently assigned in support of the Southern California Offshore Range (SCORE). 22

NALF, San Clemente Island received approval for its first official insignia from the Chief of Naval Operations. During the latter part of 1972, an all hands contest for submission of a Unit Insignia was held. The winning design was submitted by AC1 Joel B. Little, who was awarded two days special liberty, $25 in cash, and received an island sight-seeing trip with Miss Suzie Stowitts, an attractive stewardess with Mercer Airlines, which provides transportation to and from Long Beach and North Island. 11

The NALF manning complement now numbered 5 officers and 78 enlisted personnel. 11

Dr. R. W. Bogle, of the Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, using some of the equipment from the decommissioned "Non-Such" project, started assembling a site located between Whale Point and North Head, at the north end of the island. This research project was to be known as "Sea Echo". 22


The "Sea Echo" site became operational and commenced ground-wave mode "over-the-horizon" radar measurements of sea wave direction and height in the Sea of Alaska. This information would be used to provide early detection of storms originating in that area. Dr. Bogle would continue to manage and operate this project until it was decommissioned in 1994. 22

The Natural Resources Office (NRO) at Staff Civil Engineering, NAS, North Island, assumed management of the natural and cultural resources program on San Clemente Island.

The Underwater Poseidon Range for the Trident missile program was reactiviated. 1


VC-3 commenced operation and maintenance for the BQM-74C "Chukar" target drone in support of fleet training requirements.


Administrative control of San Clemente Island was transferred from NUC to the Commanding Officer, Naval Air Station, North Island. 1


A five-year old female Bald Eagle named "Modak", was released into the wild by John Ailin, a bird curator at the Sacramento Zoo, CA. She was the fifth eagle to be released in a Natural Resources Office, NAS North Island, SCI extension of a Bald Eagle Recovery Program. This was a cooperative program in conjunction with the Lindsay Museum. 36


The San Clemente Island Library was officially opened September 11 by CDR John J. Newlin, Officer in Charge. The staff consisted of one civilian, volunteer librarian Jeanne Hickey, and three military volunteers. 33

Since 1973, nearly 16,500 goats were removed from the island, most of them alive. Approximately 3000 goats remained, mostly in the southeastern area that is laced with very deep rugged and steep canyons that are inaccessible to man.

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