San Diego is a military city: More than 10 percent of its population comprises active duty military families or veterans.
And one of its biggest local draws for arts, dining, and culture is Liberty Station, which once served as San Diego’s Naval Training Center (NTC), and is celebrating its centennial this year. To mark the milestone, Liberty Station opened its USS Recruit exhibit this week, a free and immersive experience dedicated to the 50,000 naval recruits that passed through the NTC each year.
“I’m the city’s first ever Native American, Filipino, Puerto Rican, Dutch mayor,” said San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria at the exhibition’s opening ceremony on Wednesday. “How did that happen? The Navy.”
All four of his grandparents came to San Diego from around the world, including his grandfather, an NTC recruit himself.
“I know my story is not unique,” Gloria said. “So many of you share a story of how the military, specifically the Navy and the Marine Corps, has a direct connection to why you’re here in San Diego.”
The USS Recruit exhibit sits in a training ship of the same name, which never saw sea time and instead was used to train hundreds of thousands of new sailors during its tenure. Now, the ship houses photographs and recorded stories from veterans who served at the NTC.
Tom Crosby sat in the front row at Wednesday’s ceremony, in a place of honor reserved for veterans of the NTC. He arrived in 1953.
“The reason I came here is because my brother and I made a pact that we wanted to thank the United States for rescuing us from the Philippines during World War II after three years in a Japanese prison camp,” Crosby said.
He was eight when he was captured just outside of Manila, and eleven when he was rescued. After years of scant meals, stealing Japanese soldiers’ garbage to salvage scraps, and lugging buckets of water for prison guards, he weighed just 48 pounds.
He moved to the United States and attended boarding school before enlisting in the Navy and eventually working for the City of Coronado.
“I’m alive today because of the sacrifices of the First Calvary Division who rescued me,” Crosby said. “I appreciate life, I appreciate everything, and always have, because of what they gave.”
The exhibit is free and open on Saturdays and Sundays from 12 pm to 4 pm. It is located at 2558 Laning Road, in San Diego.
“Everything about Liberty Station speaks to the power of community,” said Scott Seligman, President of The Seligman Group, which helped transform Liberty Station into its current retail hub. “This community has repaired and refurbished the USS Recruit and made an important statement by having history become living history.”