From Leatherneck, Magazine of the Marines
The common denominator of all Marine Corps virtues is "respect." Therefore, it would, indeed, be difficult, if not impossible to find a Marine, past or present, who has earned our respect more than Lieutenant General John Archer Lejeune, pronounced LeJERN. Every year, Marines worldwide read as ordered in November of 1921, LtGen Lejeune's Birthday Message, which enhances our much-envied 10 Nov. tradition.
The birthday traditions take a distant second place to the fact that the general is credited with singlehandedly saving the Corps after World War I. Respect for the general, post his passing, has reached almost religious proportions. A major base in North Carolina, memorial halls at he U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., as well as a major highway in Florida have all been named in honor of the general and his impressive military record."Respect" is the issue down in Pointe Coupee (pronounced pon kupee) Parish, La., where the citizens, including nearly 200 descendents of the general's family, have for two centuries pronounced the family name Luh-JERN, albeit spelled LeJeune. Today's LeJeune family traces its heritage back to the Jean Baptiste Lejeune family. Louisiana is "gyrene" territory, with six Marine generals hailing from the bayous, including two Commandants, Major General Commandant
John LeJeune, the 13th and General Robert H. Barrow, the 27th.Family members share the story in a kind and gentle fashion, that when Northerners (aka Yankees) say the name, they change it without regard for the correct pronunciation. In our latest generation of leathernecks, many have lost the correct sound for the name Lejeune.The Lejeune name is a legacy in this southern parish where the general was born on 10 Jan. 1867. The French heritage, Cajun and Creole accents, and the Napoleonic legal codes all blend to create a chivalrous way of life in southern Louisiana.LtGen LeJeune's descendents such as Jacques LaCour, whose family owns the Old Hickory Plantation where John LeJeune was born, as well as the parish administrator, Owen J. "Jimmy" Bello, and the parish historian would like to know how their most famous son's name became so widely misspoken. In the 1960s and ;70s, consensus has it that at least half the Marines used the correct LeJERN articulation. Time and inattention in other climes has diminished the proper pronunciation of the general's name.There is absolute unanimity on the correct pronunciation at his birthplace. One retired Marine told me; "it was like tomato/tomäto." He later recanted and assured me that leathernecks pronouncing "Le-JERN" are both on target as well as respectful. So where did it go awry?It took several generations and some notable
sea stories to have our illustrious leatherneck's name so mispronounced. One Marine major's French lady tried convincing her Marine that the French pronounce the name Lun Joon, which means "the young." Clearly she had not been to Pointe Coupee, LA., and learned of the LeJeune (LeJERN) family legacy. Brian Costello, noted Pointe Coupee historian and the author of the "The House of Lejeune," plus 17 other books on this charming area of the South stated: "When we hear Camp Lejeune mispronounced on the television, we cringe!"Jimmy Bello added, "General Lejeune is the most prominent gentleman this parish has ever raised. We wish and hope his name will be respected and said correctly. We are in phase one of creating a Lejeune History Center for visitors to Pointe Coupee.""My dad =, a decorated Marine who fought at Iwo Jima, always insisted our family and others pronounced the general's name properly," Jacque LaCour said. "Our recent generation has slacked in this respect." A humorous instance of Marines and names was related by the keynote speaker at the 10 Nov. 2006 dedication ceremony for the National Museum of Marine Corps in Triangle, Va. Jim Leher, prominent National Public TV journalist and new anchor for the "The News Hour With Jim Leher," told the audience about his arrival at the train station on the Quantico base for basic officer training. (See Leatherneck, May 2007,
for Leher interview.)"The DI told us to answer up 'Here, sir!' when our name was called, and when he got to mine, and he said 'Le-here-er-er.' And, like some kind of idiot, I blurted out, 'It's pronounced Lehrer, sir!' Lehrer went on to note that he then heard the terrifying click, click, click of the leather heels on the wooden deck of the station made by the drill instructor, who marched down and placed his face an inch from the new officer candidate, as he loudly and clearly said: "Candidate, if I say your name is Little Bo Peep, your name is Little Bo Peep!" That story, now paraphrased and cleaned up a bit, is the way future Second Lieutenant Lehrer gained a new name. A few months ago a Lejeune descendant, who is now 2dLt Learlin Lejeune, pronounced Lur lin LeJERN, an infantry officer, arrived at Quantico. He, too decided wisely to flow with the misuse of his legendary name rather than correct the noncommissioned officer in charge. Likewise, now Corporal Jean Lejeune arrived at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Paris Island, S.C., for recruit training and his junior DI demonstrated little interest in bonding with the new recruit by correctly calling him LeJERN. Later, when his brother Shane Lejeune enlisted—he is now serving in Fallujah—he experienced the same communication challenge. Perhaps educating your senior NCOs upon arrival in the Marine Corps is not the wisest way
to strike up a close and intimate rapport with them.Etymology, the study of the word origins and their usage, offers some interesting comparisons, in English, there are invisible "Rs," i.e., when General Lejeune was Colonel Lejeune, there was an "R" sound in both names—Kernel LeJERN. Dr Thomas Klingler, associate professor and chair of the French and Italian Department, Tulane University, New Orleans, did research for his doctoral dissertation at Pointe Coupee where he worked on a Creole-French dictionary.On the pronunciation of the Lejeune name, Professor Klingler believes one hypothesis may be that many non-French speaking people had trouble with the "Luh Zhun" sound and over time inserted into common usage the "R" sound, i.e., "je" has been used as "JER" in southern Louisiana. The Pointe Coupee accents are a mélange of French vocabulary and African grammar.Marines treasure and respect their history and traditions. The Lejeune family believes that, in time, the general's name will be put back on track. The Battle of Guadalcanal, in 1942, may not have been a Marine fight had not the 13th Commandant pursued amphibious warfare with a passion. Our Marines may have been limited to Navy Police details, and the Fleet Marine Force may have never existed. On the Corps' Birthday on the 'Canal, the First Marine Division paused to recognize the general's treasured tradition. A
few short days later on 20 Nov. 1942, John Archer Lejeune, 75, died and was buried with honors at Virginia's Arlington National Cemetery.John Archer Lejeune (LeJERN) raised the bar in our Corps from the time he entered the U.S. Naval Academy, graduating in the Class of 1888, to his leadership in World War I and his fight to keep our Corps of Marines prominent in the War Department's long-term planning. The rock-hard fact is: We Marines owe our 13th Commandant our honor, courage, commitment and above all, RESPECT.Author's note: A heartfelt Semper Fi to the Lejeune family and the chivalrous and gentle people of Pointe Coupee Parish, La.Editor's note: Patrick "P.T." Brent is an infantry Marine who served with 2/24. He has been a UPI correspondent, embedded with the U.S. military units in Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa. A Honolulu businessman, he is a "founder" for the National Museum of the Marine Corps near Quantico and The Marine Memorial at Pearl Harbor.
This article was written by Patrick T. Brent and originally appeared in the April 2008 issue of Leatherneck
magazine.LtGen Lejeune's Birthday Message(Marine Corps Order No. 47 (Series 1921)Headquarters, U.S.Marine Corps, Washington, 1Nov. 1921)
759, The following will be read to the command on the 10th of November, 1921, and be read on the 10th of November of every year. Should the order not be received by the 10th of November, 1921, it will be read upon receipt.
(1) On November 10, 1775, a Corps of Marines was created by a resolution of the Continental Congress. Since that date many thousand men have borne the name Marine. In memory of them it is fitting that we who are Marines should commemorate the birthday of our Corps by calling to mind the glories of its long and illustrious history.
(2) The record of our Corps is one which will bear comparison with that of the most famous military organizations in the world's history. During 90 of the 167 years of its existence the Marine Corps has been in action against the Nation's foes. From the battle of Trenton to the Argonne, Marines have won foremost honors in war, and in the long eras of tranquility at home generation after generation of Marines have grown gray in war in both hemispheres, and in every corner of the seven seas, that our country and its citizens might enjoy peace and security.
(3) In every battle and skirmish since the birth of our Corps Marines have acquitted themselves with the greatest distinction, winning new honors on each occasion until the term "Marine" has come to signify all that is highest in military efficiency and soldierly virtue.
(4) This high name of distinction and soldierly repute we who are Marines today have received from those who preceded us in the corps. With it we also received from them the eternal spirit which has animated our Corps from generation to generation and has been the distinguishing mark of Marines in every age. So long as that spirit continues to flourish Marines will be found equal to every emergency in the future as they have been in the past, and the men of our Nation will regard us as worthy successors to the long line of illustrious men who have served as "Soldiers of the Sea" since the founding of the Corps.
Major General Commandant"The World's Greatest Marine"
Lieutenant General John A. Lejeune would have taken immediate umbrage with the above appellation; however, many Corps historians would have backed that title. In a review of Marine Corps history and the hallmarks that made the 20th century, LtGen Lejeune would be most prominent.From the beginning, he had to fight to receive a commission in the Corps. Initially, because of his academic standing at the U.S.Naval Academy, he had been assigned to the Engineer Corps. He successfully challenged that decision in order to become a Marine.He became a decorated combat officer, creative educator and planner who led the Corps in expeditionary preparations. His leadership gave the Corps the Fleet Marine Force, precursor to today's operating forces. It was in the passageways of Congress where he made sure the Corps had tenure and status. He founded the Marine Corps Association at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in 1913.His World War 1 record, including command of the 2d. Division in combat, and decorations speak for themselves. He retired as a major general on 10 Nov. 1929 and was advanced to the rank of lieutenant general on the retired list in February 1942.Surely there is room in Marine lexicon for the correct use of the general's name.—-P.T. Brent