Fleet Week in San Diego

Fleet Week brochure
4 carriers photo SDDT
flags on Navy Pier
USS Stethem DDG 63
USS Stethem crew
Fleet Week in San Diego has become the nation's largest military tribute, involving the Navy, Coast Guard, Marines, the Miramar Air Show, the Sea-n-Air Parade, as well as a growing number of non-military events such as the Chrysler Classic Speed Festival of vintage race cars on Coronado, Operation Gaslamp in downtown San Diego, golf tournaments, basketball games, the KSON CountryFest with Willie Nelson, the Star Spangled Salute concert at the Convention Center with Lee Greenwood. According to the Fleet Week 2002 program, "The sixth annual Fleet Week is presented by the San Diego Fleet Week Foundation and sponsored by the Port of San Diego, The San Diego Union-Tribune and several other prominent civic and corporate organizations. San Diego's military history is extensive and the positive impact the military has on the community has been recorded through the decades. For more than 15 years, San Diego has recognized this influence with a community celebration. The pre-cursor to Fleet Week, Accolades, began in 1986. In 1995, a group of civic-minded business leaders created the concept of Fleet Week San Diego," modeling their vision after the Fleet Week celebration in San Francisco. The proposed plan appealed to the community because of the patriotic focus of the events and the opportunity Fleet Week would provide to educate the region about the importance of the military to our economy and our community. From its inception, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, the San Diego Convention and Visitor's Bureau, government entities, San Diego's business leaders and the military all supported and participated in the celebration of the military men and women and their families. The first Fleet Week celebration in San Diego was held in the summer of 1997. Each year, the event has become more popular with the business community, as well as the military, their families and the public. Initially, the event was offered during the summer months, but in 2000, the event was moved to October to incorporate the Marine Corps' Miramar Air Show and the Holiday Bowl Chrysler Classic Speed Festival. 'Fleet Week San Diego is a wonderful way to honor our service men and women for Serving America Twice, both defending our nation and the countless hours of volunteerism that improve the quality of our community,' said Old Town Trolley Tours Director of Operations, Lorin Stewart, the 2002 Fleet Week San Diego chairman. Each year the military has worked with government and community officials to allow the community an opportunity to get a 'close-up' look at the efforts and contributions of our region's sea-services. This effort first began with the Parade of Ships on the waterfront and free ship tours. This aspect of the event has expanded to the Port of San Diego Sea-n-Air Parade, a powerful display of military hardware, both sea and air, and free tours of Naval ships at different locations on the waterfront. In 2001, Fleet Week San Diego festivities were pared down due to Sept. 11. Events including the Miramar Air Show, the Chrysler Classic Speed Festival and the annual Sea-n-Air Parade were canceled to ensure the safety of both military personnel and civilians. This year, previous year's events are again on the schedule and new events have been added. Local businesses will offer special discount prices for military personnel and their dependents. Event organizers expect increased community support for the month-long series of events considering the community's desire to honor the military in light of the current war on terrorism. Last year brought the formation of a new nonprofit, public benefit corporation, the San Diego Fleet Week Foundation, which is tasked with presenting and growing the annual honorary event. Sponsorship monies are raised, events are produced which foster awareness of the military in the community, and proceeds are donated to charitable organizations that directly benefit our enlisted service members and their families. This new organization is made possible with a small full-time staff, a volunteer board of directors, and a myriad of volunteers who help plan, coordinate and staff the events."

The Navy has had a major role in the history of San Diego military bases. The oldest Navy shore establishment in San Diego was the coaling station on Point Loma since 1901, officially known after 1904 as the La Playa Coaling Station. The North Island Aviation Camp was established in 1911 by the Army Signal Corps after Glenn Curtiss made the first seaplane flight on the uninhabited North Island January 26, 1911, and founded an aviation school. Congress officially purchased North Island in August of 1917 and its airfield, designated Rockwell Field in 1918, was shared by the Army and Navy until 1939. Camp Kearny was established July 18, 1917, one of the first Army bases since Fort Stockton was established on the top of Presidio Hill in Nov. 1846, and Point Loma became the home of a military reservation in 1852, where the Army established Fort Rosecrans in 1899. The Marine Barracks in Balboa Park had been established Dec. 19, 1914, by Col. Joseph Pendleton. The Marines moved from Balboa Park to the new Dutch Flats base authorized by the Naval appropriation bill of August 29, 1916, sponsored by Congressman William Kettner, and was commissioned Marine Barracks Dec. 1, 1921. Kettner also persuaded FDR to establish the U. S. Naval Training Station (NTS) on bayfront tideland and the Naval Hospital in Balboa Park in 1919. Camp Matthews began in 1918 as a Marine Corps rifle range in La Jolla. Naval Air Station, Miramar developed on the site of Camp Kearny in the 1930s. Camp Holcomb was built in 1934 on part of the old Camp Kearny by Marines for artillery and machine gun training. On June 14, 1940 it was renamed Camp Elliott in honor of the 10th Commandant of the Marine Corps 1903-1910, General George F. Elliott, and became the Fleet Marine Force Training Center."

The first Fleet Week was celebrated in San Diego during the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition. According to Richard Pourade, " The years between the Great Wars were drawing to a close. In Asia, Japanese armies were driving into the mainland of China. In Europe, Adolph Hitler had taken control of Germany. In the United States, the recognition of Communist Russia gave impetus to a wave of radicalism. Headlines in the newspapers imparted no sense of urgency. The world had not yet been drawn into the intimacy that was to come with the end of isolationism, the swiftness of transportation and the immediacy of communication. The persistence of the depression was of more concern to the people of the United States. The number of unemployed had failed to diminish and the New Deal of President Roosevelt was running into trouble. The situation in San Diego may have seemed more fortunate. Roosevelt was expanding the Navy. A major aircraft company was moving to Lindbergh Field. Tijuana and Agua Caliente had survived the end of prohibition in the United States and were drawing more and more tourists through San Diego. The suggestion of another exposition began to be taken seriously. The first exposition had not only publicized the natural beauty and climate of the area but had brought the Navy and the Marines to San Diego to stay, and now in the White House was the man who largely was responsible for it, while he was Undersecretary of the Navy. What might a second exposition do for San Diego? At 11 o'clock on the morning of May 29, 1935, a color guard of the United States Marines led a parade across Cabrillo Bridge to Plaza del Pacifico, where the national flag was raised to officially open the exposition. At 8 o'clock in the evening, President Roosevelt spoke by telephone and designated two selected orphans, unknown to him, to press the buttons turning on the lights which bathed the grounds in color. In his remarks, heard over the loudspeaker system, Roosevelt said: "The decision of the people of San Diego thus to dedicate the California Pacific International Exposition is, I believe, worthy of the courage and confidence with which our people now look to the future. No one can deny that we have passed through troubled years. No one can fail to feel the inspiration of your high purpose. I wish you great success." In "Fleet Week" in June 114 warships and 400 military planes arrived under command of Admiral Joseph M. Reeves, Commander-in-chief of the United States Fleet. It was described as the mightiest fleet ever assembled under the United States flag. It included forty-eight battleships, cruisers and carriers, with more than 3000 commissioned officers and 55,000 enlisted men. Most of them visited the fair, and in turn, thousands of San Diegans and fair visitors were guests on the various ships."

The Coast Guard became a major presence in San Diego after 1935. According to the Fleet Week 2002 program, "The U.S. Coast Guard. through the Revenue Cutter Service, remains the oldest continuous federal sea-going force in the United States (the U.S. Navy was disbanded after the Revolutionary War). In 1790, at the request of Alexander Hamilton, first Secretary of the Treasury, the Revenue Cutter Service was formed to stop the loss of badly needed revenue by sea-going smugglers. In 1848, the federal government added to to the Revenue Cutter Service's missions when it established a life-saving system. The primary mission was shore-based rescue of crewmembers off shipwrecked vessels. This system of life-saving stations was formally organized as the U.S. Lifesaving Service in 1878. To streamline and improve government operations, the U.S Lifesaving Service and the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service combined on Jan 20, 1915, to form the U.S. Coast Guard. The federal government expanded the U.S. Coast Guard's missions when two more government agencies merged into the service: the Lighthouse Service in 1939 and the Bureau of Navigation and Steamship Inspection Service in 1942. The Coast Guard presence in San Diego began as a Coast Guard Air Patrol Detachment on May 4, 1934, for the purpose of preventing smuggling across the Mexican border. The primary mission soon changed to the saving of life and property, as more and more patrolling aircraft were diverted for search and rescue missions offshore. On May 21, 1935, Commander Elmer F. Stone, one of the Coast Guard's most renowned aviators, assumed command of the detachment. He is best known for his actions as copilot of NC-4, the first aircraft to cross the Atlantic Ocean in May and June of 1919. Under his command, the detachment began to grow into an air station. On April 1, 1937, the service formally commissioned Coast Guard Air Station San Diego at its present location on Harbor Drive. Due to the expansion of the Coast Guard, the service consolidated all operational units in the San Diego area into one command called Coast Guard Activities San Diego. Today, Coast Guard Activities San Diego's many missions reflect the history of its past: maritime defense, law enforcement, search and rescue, aids to navigation, vessel inspections and boating safety. The Activities consists of eight separate units. In the tradition of the Life Saving Service, Group San Diego, Boat Station San Diego, and Air Station San Diego maintain a 24-hour ready response to any distress call or law enforcement situation. Boat Station San Diego has two 41-foot utility boats and three 21-foot rigid-hull inflatable boats. Air Station San Diego has three HH-60J "Jayhawk" helicopters. The 110-foot Coast Guard cutters Tybee, Edisto and Long Island in San Diego continue the tradition of the Revenue Cutter Service. They maintain a constant coastal presence, patrolling for drug and fisheries law enforcement and to aid mariners in distress. The San Diego Aids to Navigation Team and the new Point Loma Lighthouse facility continues the services once provided by the Lighthouse Service. The Marine Safety Office continues to provide the services initiated by the Bureau of Navigation and Steamship Inspection Service. In addition, the Marine Safety Office provides a 24-hour ready response to oil spills and commercial vessel inspections. The Coast Guard Pacific Area Tactical Law Enforcement Team is based out of Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego and has 100 personnel assigned to it. This unit deploys highly trained law enforcement teams aboard U.S. Naval ships to stem the flow of illegal drugs into our country. Last summer, two-378 foot high endurance cutters, the Chase and the Hamilton joined the San Diego Coast Guard team and are moored out of Naval Station San Diego. These vessels also continue the tradition of the Revenue Cutter Service - enforcing the U.S. laws on the sea and ready to respond to search and rescue. Team Coast Guard in San Diego consists of more than 700 active duty members, 200 reserve members and 700 volunteer Auxiliarists. In 1999, these men and women responded to 557 search and rescue cases, 56 marine casualty investigations, 228 pollution reports, saved 70 lives, assisted 702 others, assisted $6.8 million in property, seized 3850 lbs. of cocaine and 5657 lbs, of marijuana, intercepted 96 illegal migrants trying to enter the country illegally, and maintained 140 aids to navigation. "