MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- The sun rises on an empty strip of road marked only by 29 swaying palm trees. Not much is known about them except that they somehow represent the lasting bond between the Combat Center and the city of Twentynine Palms.
Combat Center personnel and several members of the Twentynine Palms community gathered at the front gate Aug. 18 to commemorate the 54th birthday of the Combat Center in conjunction with a ribbon cutting ceremony for 29 palm trees lining the entrance of the base.
Maj. Gen. Richard C. Zilmer, former Combat Center commanding general, acquired the palm trees through a donation shortly before becoming the commanding general of I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward).
Speakers at the ceremony talked about the great history behind the base and the community and how they have grown together to become an integral part in each other’s development, said Kevin Cole, Twentynine Palms mayor.
"We’ve always thought the entrance to the base not as a gate, but a bridge connecting the Marine Corps and Twentynine Palms, a symbolism of the integration and cooperation of Twentynine Palms and the base," said Cole. "When you have a living thing like a tree, it represents the continual growth of our relationship. It is also a living thing that will continue to grow just like the community and the base."
Before cutting the ribbons, everyone gathered at the Officer’s Club to learn a little about the "great history of this institution" and that it was a ribbon cutting ceremony, not a tree cutting ceremony, said Stone. Retired Sgt. Maj. Ray V. Mashburn, former Combat Center Deployable Force Troops sergeant major from March 1968 to 1971, was issued orders to participate in the ceremony, and he presented himself to the commanding general to report for duty.
"It’s the greatest honor that could be bestowed," said Mashburn, beaming with pride with a smile on his face. "It makes you feel like the Marine Corps still hasn’t forgotten you."
Left dormant by the Army and Navy after World War II, the Marine Corps took charge of this empty, rugged plain, now known as the Combat Center, in 1952. Since then the Corps has called this tract of land home and currently trains about one-third of the active-duty and Reserve Marine force.
The 29 palm trees now lining the entrance and the joint civilian-military ribbon cutting symbolize the ever-growing relationship between the base and the town, which will not be forgotten, said Stone.
"As history goes, people will never remember who we are," he said. "But the 29 palm trees will not be forgotten. The trees will stand in proud recognition of our relationship with the city. That will not be forgotten."
Other military bases may be older and hold a long-standing relationship with their neighboring communities, but it is the harmonious kinship between the Combat Center and the small city of Twentynine Palms that is different.
"It’s not just the traditions of the military, it’s the traditions of the community," said Jack Brown, Stater Brothers chairman and chief executive officer. "No other communities have as close a part of a military base as Twentynine Palms. It’s that value that’s a strength. It’s the military and the community working together for America."
The lessons learned from history, with its great leaders and greater mistakes, guide today’s leaders to better shape the future. The Marine Corps now implements those historical concepts about ancient cultures to understand their enemies and allies from across the globe.
"If we forget that great history, we are likely to repeat it," said Stone. "Marines do the basics well. We have not forgotten that. They are also learning about a new culture. History is now a part of the way the Marine Corps fights today."
Although the people who cut the ribbons, and where the trees came from, may be forgotten as time passes, the 29 palm trees will continue to sway in the desert wind to serve as a reminder of the continuing relationship between the base and the local community.
"One day, when you’re 85 years old, you can still look at these trees," said Sgt. Maj. William Johnson, Combat Center sergeant major. "Only God knows how long these trees will be here."