Wednesday, July 25, 2007

General John A. Lejeune, USMC
One of the greatest of all Leathernecks

The man most responsible for initiating that doctrinal innovation and sustaining a measure of intellectual rigor in the service was General Lejeune, the 13th commandant of the Marine Corps.

Although Lejeune grew up poor in post–Civil War Louisiana, he retained happy childhood memories of gathering honey and hunting small game with his dad. In 1881 Lejeune became a military cadet at Louisiana State University. Three years later, he entered the US Naval Academy, Class of 1888. Following graduation, his mandatory cruise, and another set of rigorous exams, Lejeune found that he “nurtured a growing dislike for life at sea and the Navy in particular. So he fought hard, showing shrewd political skills that he would employ throughout his career, to secure a commission in the Marine Corps. This was a career decision newly opened to his year group, but it was highly unusual by Navy standards. Lejeune personally made his case to the Bureau of Navigation chief, who ultimately allowed Lejeune to transfer services but told the persistent cadet, “You have too many brains to be lost in the Marine Corps."

Early assignments took Lejeune to the western United States, the Caribbean and Cuba during the Spanish-American War, and Mexico at the beginning of the Mexican Revolution. Several years later, he impressed many by his performance at Army War College. At the time, he was one of the few marines to attend senior service school. From 1915 to 1917, Lejeune served as assistant to the commandant, where he learned the intricacies of Washington political life. Prior to US involvement in World War I, Lejeune commanded the Overseas Depot at Quantico.

Brigadier General Lejeune arrived in France in June 1918 and quickly made an impact. The American Expeditionary Force (AEF) commander, Gen John Pershing, resisted attempts by the Marine Corps leadership, including Lejeune, to employ the corps in an amphibious role in the Baltic or Adriatic Sea. Pershing argued that “our land forces must be homogeneous in every respect” and advised against their use as a separate division. Lejeune’s reputation among the AEF senior staff, many of whom he knew from Army War College, was impeccable. In Europe, Lejeune commanded the Army’s 64th Infantry Brigade and the 4th Marine Brigade before earning his second star and assuming command of the 2d Marine Infantry Division on 28 July 1918. Even though he would later serve nine years as Marine Corps commandant, Lejeune considered this the pinnacle of his military career. The 2d Division conducted sustained ground operations with distinction in France. Unlike Pershing’s style of intimidating subordinates, Lejeune chose to lead by gaining the “loyalty and devotion of his men.” From the Armistice to the middle of 1919, Lejeune’s division occupied an area around the bridgehead at Coblenz on the Rhine. He returned from Europe later that year. After meeting with President Woodrow Wilson and the man he would soon replace as Marine Corps commandant, Maj Gen George Barnett, Lejeune returned to Virginia and assumed command of the new Marine training center at Quantico.

It is said that successful military officers, in addition to being extremely capable, have mentors who help them along. In Lejeune’s case, his relationship to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels was key. Daniels had admired Lejeune’s straightforward and professional style when Lejeune served as assistant to the commandant from 1914–17. In addition, Lejeune had an impressive war record, a great mind, and the leadership skills necessary to run the corps. Daniels had never supported General Barnett as commandant. In fact, Barnett had gotten the job over Daniels’s objections. In the summer of 1920, when it appeared that a Republican would capture the White House, Daniels ousted Barnett and replaced him with Lejeune, whom the Democrats supported.

Lejeune’s change of command was as unceremonious as it was brief. Before noon on 30 June 1920, Lejeune reported to Barnett’s office. Barnett asked him why he failed to inform him of Daniels’s plot. Lejeune replied that his hands were tied. Barnett ordered Lejeune to stand at attention in front of his desk. The outgoing commandant charged his subordinate with disloyalty, unprofessional conduct, and being a false friend. At twelve o’clock, Barnett ordered an aide-de-camp to remove one star from his (Barnett’s shoulders) and marched out of the office without so much as a handshake with Lejeune.

After Warren Harding’s election in November, the Senate set aside Lejeune’s confirmation until the new president took office. On 4 March 1921, Lejeune, still unsure of his future, headed to the Capitol to attend Harding’s swearing-in ceremony. As the crowds gathered, Navy Secretary-designate Edwin Denby approached Lejeune. Denby came right to the point: “General Lejeune, would you serve as Commandant of the Marine Corps during my administration?” Meanwhile, across town at the Navy Department, Adm William Moffett was preparing to take over as head of the newly created Bureau of Aeronautics

In April 1941, construction was approved on an 11,000-acre tract in Onslow County, North Carolina. On May 1 of that year, Lt. Col. William P. T. Hill began construction on Marine Barracks New River, N.C. The first base headquarters was in a summer cottage on Montford Point, then shifted to Hadnot Point in 1942. Later that year it was renamed in honor of the 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps, John A. Lejeune.

One of the satellite facilities of Camp Lejeune served for a while as a third boot camp for the Marines, in addition to Parris Island and San Diego. That facility, Montford Point, was established after Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802. Between 1942 and 1949, a brief era of segregated training for black Marines, the camp at Montford Point trained 20,000 African-Americans. After the military was ordered to fully integrate, Montford Point was renamed Camp Gilbert H. Johnson and became the home of the Marine Corps Combat Service Support Schools.