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Remembering El Toro Marine Corps Air Station

November 7, 2010 |  4:35 pm

Bill Greenhouse spent nine months at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in 1943. Now 95, the former Marine master sergeant remembers the area well -- it was full of eucalyptus trees and orange groves.

Today, the planes are long gone. All that's left of the station is a hangar. The property has become the sprawling Orange County Great Park.

But Greenhouse and about 80 other veterans and their families celebrated their memories of the station Saturday afternoon as part of a yearly El Toro Homecoming. The event is part of the El Toro Marine Air Station Oral History Project, a collaboration between the park and the Center for Oral and Public History at Cal State Fullerton.

"A lot of people say that El Toro made Orange County," said Kira Gentry, a project manager with the university.

More than 300 interviews have been conducted for the project, which aims to document the role that the station played in the transformation of the county since World War II.

Much has changed. The base was opened on a former lima bean field on St. Patrick's Day of 1943, when the county population was less than 150,000. But the station brought people to the area from around the country and many of them -- including Greenhouse, a Fallbrook resident from West Texas -- stayed in Southern California.

"This was a beautiful place," said Greenhouse, sitting outside the hangar. On Saturday morning, he rode the park's signature orange hot-air balloon to survey the rambling suburbs, the skyscrapers and the freeways buzzing with traffic.

Read the full story here.

-- Nicole Santa Cruz

Photo: William Greenhouse, a former Marine master sergeant, makes his way into the celebration. The hangar was part of the air station, which was in use from 1943 to 1999. Credit: Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times

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