San Diego Bay was the location of the first permanent European settlement on the West Coast of the United States due to its natural advantages as a protected harbor. In 1769, Gaspar de Portola, a Spanish Army soldier, established the Presidio of San Diego; Father Junipero Serra founded the San Diego de Alcala Mission. Both were located in the city's present-day Old Town neighborhood, approximately four miles north of the harbor.
San Diego served as a base of operations for the Spanish to colonize the territory of Alta California. New Spain's most remote territory was the southern terminus of El Camino Real, the trail connecting 21 missions.
San Diego grew slowly. The settlement was far removed from Mexican War of Independence (1810–1821) hostilities, in which Spain lost to the newly independent country. Under Mexican rule, San Diego's population gradually increased as the central government encouraged immigration to frontier lands.
During the Mexican-American War (1846–1848), a handful of small battles were fought in Southern California. On December 6–7, 1846, a combined U.S. force of soldiers, sailors, and marines under the command of General Stephen Kearny engaged a small group of Californios (Mexican colonists) in the Battle of San Pasqual, about 30 miles north of San Diego. Eighteen of Kearny's men fell in the battle, but U.S. forces managed to hold the field and win the war. The Treaty of Guadaloupe Hidalgo, signed in February 1848, established the border between the two countries 15 miles south of San Diego. California became a state two years later.
Miramar National Cemetery is located near Scripps Ranch, a neighborhood in northern San Diego located on the historic estate of newspaper publisher Edward W. Scripps. In 1891, Scripps began erecting an Italianate mansion on the property named for and modeled after Miramare Castle in Italy. The moniker eventually became associated with the surrounding mesa; loosely translated, Miramare means "sea view." The 49-room mansion was completed in 1898, and was the home of the Scripps family until 1969, when the property was sold to a real estate developer who demolished the building four years later.
Camp Kearny was established near Scripps Ranch in January 1917 as the United States prepared to enter World War I. During the war, Camp Kearny served as an Army training and mobilization center that could accommodate 32,000 men. After the Armistice, base operations were scaled back, but the government retained the site as a military and civilian air strip. In early 1927, Charles Lindbergh flew the Spirit of St. Louis on test-flights from the base, in advance of his famous trans-Atlantic flight.
In the 1930s, the Navy and the Marines established operations at Camp Kearny, and it served as a headquarters for multiple air squadron groups during World War II. The facility was re-designated as Naval Air Station (NAS) Miramar in 1947 and the Marines moved to Orange County, California.
During the Vietnam War, the Naval Fighters Weapons School popularly known as "Top Gun" was established at NAS Miramar. The installation served as a Naval Air Station until 1997, when it transitioned into a Marine Corps Aviation unit and was renamed Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar.
A large resident veteran population and limited burial capacity at nearby Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery—so designated in 1934 but associated with an older post cemetery—was the impetus for building a new national cemetery in the area. In 2008, MCAS Miramar leased land in perpetuity to the National Cemetery Administration to develop Miramar National Cemetery. Approximately one-third of this 313-acre property is reserved to protect federally endangered or threatened species—including the San Diego fairy shrimp, California gnatcatcher, Otay mesa-mint and San Diego button-celery.
Miramar National Cemetery was dedicated in January 2010, and the first burial occurred on November 22 that year.
Monuments and Memorials
The Liberation, a memorial by sculptor Richard Becker that was dedicated on September 16, 2011, honors the sacrifice of veterans captured during America's foreign wars. The San Diego American Ex-Prisoners of War-Chapter 1 donated the 15-foot-tall figurative composition of a bronze soldier and POW flag atop a concrete base.