CAMP PENDLETON REVISITED AUGUST 18, 2014
When the Forster Family had their big Reunion in June of this year (2014,)
a tour of the Rancho Santa Margarita Ranch House was arranged, and a lot of it had to do with the fact that Don Juan, wife Doña Ysidora Pico Forster and their family had owned the Ranch and lived there a number of years after having to evacuate their previous home at the Mission (now Basilica) San Juan Capistrano.
From my earliest memories, I can recall going to visit the Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores with Aunt Mae and Titán (my Uncle John Forster,) especially to see Jerome O’Neill. He was the son of one of the owners, Richard O’Neill, who had bought the Ranch along with Rancho Mission Viejo and Rancho Trabuco – those 2 in Orange County – and Titán loved to see him. They were great compadres. Mr. O’Neill, I remember, would be in a wheel chair behind the immense desk in one of two rooms that served as the Office. At the time, I did not know what his illness was. I was 8 years old when he died in 1926 of Parkinson’s disease. We continued to visit there with other members of his family. Their name was Baumgartner. O’Neill never married.
When I took the pictures at the Rancho in 1936, I also went through the entire home making the drawing of the rooms. It’s a good thing I did. The drawing and photos came in handy for me a few years later. Titán passed away in December of 1939, after a year-long struggle with cancer, and it was a sad, sad time around home. I was living with Aunt Mae full time by then, and in the two years following is when we were always on a Train to New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago –- she didn’t want to stay still one moment. Her way of getting through the grieving period, now that I look back.
All play and no work began to make me restless, so I announced that I should go back to college and get my degree in teaching — Phys. Ed., English, and History. I had more than 2 years of credits so it was off to UCLA, and it just so happens I had to come up with a term paper in English. What else was there for me to write about? First thing that popped into my head —- the Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores. I had all the props, like a 40-volume set of Hubert Howe Bancroft’s History of the Western States and Mexico to delve through (in Aunt Mae’s possession,) and also those photos, plus many other sources for research; I wrote up that paper, absolutely relished working on it with all the research it entailed, and I’ll have you know I snagged an “A” like it was nothing.
Early in 1941, rumors were being bandied about that the Government was interested in Rancho Santa Margarita as a Marine base for the duration of the war. It came to pass that they took over in 1942, and down the line found that it really fit the bill because of its vast size they could have an Air Base, more training facilities, etc. Instead of what first started — just leasing — the government bought the place!
Major General Joseph Fegan was the first commander of Camp Pendleton. He and his wife were ensconced in the Ranch House where he would do his commanding from, and then they had to put on a big, big Dedication Day. All the big guns in the Military were there; all the local, state, and government politicos, were on hand. Now get this! As representative of the Forster Family, My Aunt Mae was invited to attend the ceremonies, and yours truly had to have an invitation because she was Aunt Mae’s chauffeur. And it gets better!!! All those big names and stars on their uniforms, none of them were seated right next to the General with his wife on his right and MY AUNT MAE ON HIS LEFT. And you ask, “But where is Melitas?” Well, they farmed me out into the “unfamous” section – no dignitaries allowed.
I don’t remember what we were served for luncheon. It should’ve been some tasty, tender prime rib of beef seeing as how we were on the land where the cattle used to roam. The setting was sensational under all the trees near the Ranch House. We were served by military in regular server uniforms — black trousers, white shirt, black tie, and white jacket. How could I forget that day? No way, “Juan” oops, I mean José. Of course, the speeches went on and on, but it wasn’t all that bad. I was so caught up in the moment, I was in another world —
trying to hold on to the memory of the momentous and historic events of that day.
MELITAS FORSTER MONDAYS WITH MELITAS