Lieutenant General John Archer Lejeune (luh-jern), 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps, was born atthe Old Hickory Plantation near Lacour, Louisiana in the Pointe Coupee Parish, on January 10, 1867. John A. Lejeune was the son of Confederate Army Captain Ovide Lejeune. At the age of 14, John attended a preparatory program for three years at Louisiana State University, which prepared him for entrance into the U.S. Naval Academy. After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy, he was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps on July 25, 1890.
Lejeune’s first duty station was Marine Barracks, New York for “indoctrination and instruction”, he then served at Marine Barracks Norfolk, Virginia, where he met his future wife, Ellie Harrison Murdaugh. While he was there he completed a tour at sea on the USS Bennington for 21 months.
On 2 August 1897, Lejeune assumed command of the Marine Guard of the USS Cincinnati, where he served in the Spanish–American War, commanding a 30-man landing party at Cape San Juan, Puerto Rico that covered the withdrawal of 35 U.S. Navy bluejackets from USS Amphitrite and 60 civilian refugees from the town of Fajardo where the sailors were defending against a force of 200 Spanish troops and civil guard during the Battle of Fajardo. He was detached from Cincinnati on 17 February 1899, the next day he joined the USS Massachusetts to command the Marine Guard. He was promoted to captain on 3 March 1899 and left his position on the Massachusetts on 10 May 1900 to report for recruiting duty in Boston, Massachusetts.
He was promoted to Major on March 3, 1903 and reported to Headquarters Marine Corps in Washington, D.C. for three months before he was ordered to the USS Panther to command the Marine Battalion on board. On 23 October 1903, the battalion, was transferred to USS Dixie. Major Lejeune was on duty ashore on the Isthmus of Panama in command of this battalion, leaving there on the latter date on board USS Yankee.
From January 1905 to May 1906, Lejeune served at the Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C. He then returned to Panama in command of a battalion of Marines from May to July 1906, the battalion being transported both ways on board USS Columbia. On March 29, 1907, Major Lejeune was detached from command of the Washington Barracks and ordered to the Philippines, accompanied with his wife and three daughters. It was there that he assumed command of the Marine Barracks and Naval Prison, Navy Yard, Cavite, and the First Brigade of Marines. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel on May 13, 1909 and was detached in June 1909 to return to the United States and attend the U.S. Army War College, graduating in 1910.
Lieutenant Colonel Lejeune embarked on the USS Ohio in May 1912 with the Second Regiment, First Provisional Brigade Marines for Cuba. He disembarked at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in June 1912 and was in command of the District of Santiago from June 9th, to July14, 1912. On July15, 1912, Lejeune embarked onboard the USS Prairie and sailed for Colón, Panama.
In 1913, at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba LtCol Lejeune was appointed as its first head of the executive board, for the Marine Corps Association. LtCol Lejeune became the first head of the Marine Corps Association with the goal of professional advancement among Marines. He then returned to Philadelphia onboard the USS Prairie on 2 May 1913.
In November 1913, Lejeune sailed from New York with the 2nd Advanced Base Regiment, his ultimate destination Veracruz, Mexico, but returned to the United States to receive his promotion to Colonel on February 25, 1914. Colonel Lejeune and his unit eventually landed in Mexico on April 22, 1914 and participated in the U.S. occupation of Veracruz. He returned home in December 1914, to report to Marine Corps Headquarters in Washington, D.C., to become the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps to Major General George Barnett, 12th Commandant of the Marine Corps. He was promoted to brigadier general on 29 August 1916.
With the American entry into World War I, in April 1917, Lejeune assumed command of the newly constructed Marine Barracks, Quantico, Virginia; however, his overseas service was inevitable, and in June 1918, he arrived at Brest, France. He was promoted to Major General on 1 July 1918.
Upon reporting to General John Joseph “Blackjack” Pershing, Commander-in-chief (CinC) of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) on the Western Front, he was assigned to command a brigade of the 32nd Division but later assumed command of the 4th Marine Brigade, part of the Army’s 2nd Division, immediately following the attack of the division in the Battle of Soissons. On July 28, 1918, Major General Lejeune assumed command of the Army’s 2nd Division and remained in that capacity until August 1919, after the war, when the division was demobilized. He was the second Marine officer to hold an Army divisional command (Marine Brigadier General Charles A. Doyen had previously commanded the division for two weeks), and following the Armistice with Germany in November 1918 he led the division in the march to Germany.
During the war, he was recognized by the French government as a strategist and leader, as evidenced by the Legion of Honor, and the Croix de guerre bestowed upon him by France. General Pershing, awarded Lejeune the U.S. Army’s Distinguished Service Medal. The U.S. Navy’s Distinguished Service Medal was conferred upon him when he returned to the United States following the occupation of Germany.
In October 1919, Lejeune was again appointed the Commanding General, Marine Barracks, Quantico, Virginia. On July 1, 1920 he was appointed as Major General Commandant of the Marine Corps on 1 July 1920, he left his headquarters at Washington several times for tours of inspection in Haiti, Santo Domingo, Cuba, Puerto Rico, to the West Coast and elsewhere. Upon the expiration of his second term as Commandant, Lejeune indicated his desire not to retire from the Marine Corps, but was relieved as Commandant in March 1929.
In 1923, John A. Lejeune founded the Marine Corps League
, for the purpose of preserving the traditions and promoting the interests of the United States Marine Corps. It is the only Congressionally chartered United States Marine Corps-related veterans organization in the United States. Its Congressional Charter was approved by the 75th U.S. Congress and signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on August 4, 1937.
On 10 November 1929, he retired in order to accept the position of superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute, serving there for more than eight years until poor health warranted his resignation in October 1937.
In February 1942, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General on the Marine Corps retired list.
Lieutenant General Lejeune died 20 November 1942 at the Union Memorial Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland, and was interred in the Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.
Lieutenant General Lejeune’s awards include: Distinguished Service Medal (Navy); Distinguished Service Medal (Army); Sampson Medal (USS Cincinnati); Spanish Campaign Medal; Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal with three Bronze stars for Panama, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic; Mexican Service Medal; Victory Medal with St. Mihiel Champagne, Meuse-Argonne, and Defensive Sector Clasp for World War I; Second Nicaraguan Campaign Medal; French Legion of Honor (Commander); and French Croix de Guerre with Palm.
In the Marine Corps’ annual celebration of the establishment of the Marine Corps on November 10, 1775 at Tun Tavern, the following message from MajGen John A. Lejeune is read:
Lejeune is legendary among Marines and often referred to as “the greatest of all Leathernecks”, serving with the Corps for over 40 years. In his honor, the following bear his name:
- Camp Lejeune, North Carolina
- USS Lejeune (AP-74), Navy transport ship
- Lejeune Hall, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina
- Lejeune Hall, Quantico, Virginia
- Lejeune Hall, Louisiana State University
- Lejeune Hall, United States Naval Academy
- Lejeune Hall, Virginia Military Institute
- Lejeune High School, Jacksonville, North Carolina
- John A. Lejeune Lodge No. 350 A.F.&A.M. Quantico, Virginia