Lejeune Naming Vignette

Lieutenant General John Archer Lejeune, Major General Commandant from 1920 to 1929 and traditionally known as the “Greatest Marine,” died on 20 November 1942 and was buried with full military honors on 23 November in Arlington National Cemetery. Lieutenant General and Commandant Thomas Holcomb commanded the funeral escort consisting of two battalions of Marines, the Marine Corps Band, a battery of field artillery, a company of sailors, and a detachment of Virginia Military Institute cadets. (Gen Lejeune had served as the Superintendent of VMI from 1929 to 1937.)

By that date, the first major phase of construction of the Corps’ premier amphibious training base, Marine Barracks, New River, North Carolina, had been completed. It lacked only a suitable name befitting its role in preparing Fleet Marine Forces for the epic battles of the Pacific that would be forever enshrined in the proud pages of Marine Corps history. There is no record of any staff studies, any proposed alternatives or recommendations, any meetings or discussion whatsoever on the subject. It was, as they say, “intuitively obvious.” On 20 December 1942, by acclamation, Marine Barracks, New River, was designated Camp Lejeune, New River, and the New River subsequently dropped.

Additionally, another unforeseen, minor complication had arisen from the base’s name: Marine Barracks, New River. Unfortunately, there was already a well-known place name of “New River” associated with the river of that name in the northwestern corner of the state, principally in Ashe County, that had been served by a branch of the Norfolk and Western Rail Road for years. This New River, reputedly one of the oldest in the world, was such an attraction that it was eventually recognized as a State Park and subsequently incorporated into the National Wild and Scenic River System. By the 1940s, it was considerably more well-known than the more prosaic river of the same name in insular Onslow County. Although the tracks near the older New River had been taken up in the 1930s, the railroads dutifully attempted to make deliveries to the more familiar destination, leaving the nearest stations awash in tons of construction materials and further delaying the construction of the new amphibious base on the coast. This was to provide another, although generally unpublished, motivating factor for later adding “Camp Lejeune” to the base’s name and deleting “New River.”

Posted on: November 12th, 2016
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