Group wants everyone to say it exactly the way the general did
By Dan Lamothe – Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Oct 1, 2008 18:42:30 EDT
Lt. Gen. John Archer Lejeune is one of the Corps’ all-time heroes, a legendary leatherneck who became the first Marine to lead an Army division, and who later ushered in a new era of amphibious warfare.
So why can’t Marines pronounce his name the same way he did?
That question has been raised by a growing number of veterans, Lejeune family members and some active-duty Marines, who wonder why Camp Lejeune, N.C., the base named in the late general’s honor, isn’t pronounced “Camp Luh-jern,” using the same French-Creole pronunciation preferred by the Baton Rouge, La., native.
“We all pronounce our name ‘Luh-jern,’ and that’s what we’re trying to make clear,” said John Lawrence Lejeune, 82, a distant cousin of the former commandant who lives in Baton Rouge. “It would be greatly appreciated if it was done so.”
Over the last few months, the group has ramped up the campaign to “take back” the Lejeune name. They’ve contacted Commandant Gen. James Conway, written articles published in Marine publications and paid for posters and banners displayed at Camp Lejeune this summer.
One of the posters welcoming deployed Marines back to Camp Lejeune showed a hand-drawn likeness of Lt. Gen. Lejeune along with this plea:
“Welcome home … to the most disciplined and aggressive fighting force the world has ever known! And Marines … say and speak my name correctly: Luh-JERN. Semper Fi!”
A 30-foot-wide billboard with the same theme was hung outside Lejeune’s main gate around April, but it has since been taken down, base officials said.
Retired Col. John Bates, executive director of the Armed Services YMCA in Honolulu, said the common “Luh-June” pronunciation has “always kind of hung in my craw,” considering the way Marines pride themselves on their sense of history.
“Our culture is a little bit different, and now it’s a matter of pride and respect for John Archer Lejeune,” said Bates, a three-time Purple Heart recipient stationed at Camp Lejeune before deploying to Vietnam. “It’s just the right thing to do to get everybody back on track.”
Advocates of the “Luh-jern” pronunciation said many old-Corps veterans pronounced the name the same way Lt. Gen. Lejeune did, but that things became lax over the last few decades due to a lack of awareness.
“It’s not a revolutionary thing, it’s an evolutionary thing,” Bates said, adding that Conway told him he, too, is behind the “Luh-jern” effort.
“The commandant said, ‘Yes, I know it’s supposed to be Camp “Luh-jern,” and we’re going to fix that,’” Bates said.
A spokesman for Conway, Lt. Col. T.V. Johnson, said he is unaware of any formal plan to address the matter.
“The commandant believes deeply in our history and our tradition,” Johnson said. “If historical data reflects that that is indeed how to pronounce the general’s name, then I’m sure the commandant is in support of that.”
Col. Richard Flatau, base commander, could not be reached for comment. Several sources said he tends to use the family’s preferred pronunciation but does not correct others who do not.
There are at least nine or 10 active-duty Marines and corpsmen named Lejeune now serving with the Corps, including a few based at Camp Lejeune, said 1st Lt. Philip Klay, a base spokesman. A direct descendant of Lt. Gen. Lejeune’s family is deployed to Iraq as a first lieutenant with 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, and was unavailable for comment.