Photo Information

A sign paying homage to Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, Calif., hangs in the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum aboard MCAS Miramar, Calif., Oct. 25. The museum's first home was aboard MCAS El Toro, and then relocated to MCAS Miramar after MCAS El Toro was closed.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Michael Thorn

Behind the scenes: history aboard MCAS Miramar

7 Nov 2013 | Lance Cpl. Michael Thorn 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

“Two Marines, two medals,” “The Frozen Chosin,” ditties like these echo throughout recruit training, drilling historical knowledge into the hearts and minds of future Marines. However, once those recruits become Marines they don’t always have someone feeding knowledge to them about their duty station.

For those aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., Marines have the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum to educate themselves about the rich past the installation holds.
The Flying Leatherneck began its mission at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, Calif. When the installation closed down in the 1990’s, the museum moved to MCAS Miramar, and with it, one of the volunteers from El Toro came along.
That volunteer became the current curator of the museum, Retired Staff Sgt. Stephen “Smitty” Smith, a former motor transportation specialist who started out as the museum’s librarian.

“I started out as a volunteer at El Toro while I was still active duty,” said Smitty. “I got the billet after I retired and I love my job.”
The museum itself holds relics from the past, spanning all the way back to World War I.
“[Possibly one of the] most historical air frames we have is a CH-46,” said Smitty. “It was the helicopter that landed in the embassy in Saigon that picked up the ambassador, basically ending the American involvement in Vietnam.”
Along with Smitty, volunteers and workers at the museum make sure to always be accurate and efficient with their work.
“I help with restoring air frames, giving tours and organizing squadron events,” said Leon Simon, the assistant curator at the Flying Leatherneck. “Whatever Smitty isn’t able to do, I make sure to help him get it done.”
“We do pretty much everything,” said Many Chea, the archivist at the Flying Leatherneck. “We also give tours and talk to kids. I think it’s the best job on the installation.”
Smitty would like more Marines to visit the museum, not only for valuable Marine Corps history, but also for the many opportunities it can provide to those stationed here.
“There are a lot of volunteer opportunities at the Flying Leatherneck,” said Smitty. “Marines and Sailors can practice with sheet metal, air frame repairs, and all of it is recorded for volunteer hours.”
The museum is scheduled to showcase the F-18’s anniversary of its first flight, Nov. 18, where Marines, families and friends can see the F-18 up close and personal.