A collection of tent cities, a tobacco barn and farm houses nestled on 11,000 acres of newly acquired land was all that made up Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in 1941.
Today, the base has exploded to cover 156,000 acres of barracks, dependent housing, 80 live-fire ranges, 98 maneuver areas, 34 gun positions and 50 tactical landing zones.
First called Marine Barracks New River, North Carolina and home to the 1st Marine Division, Camp Lejeune has expanded to be called home base for more than a dozen commands. 1st Marine Division moved to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton after WWII, at which time 2nd Marine Division established itself at Camp Lejeune to eventually become II Maine Expeditionary Force.
Satellite bases at Camp Geiger, Camp Johnson, Courthouse Bay, and more assist in training Marines fresh from boot camp as well as specializing in fields preparing for deployments.
Lejeune’s geography allows for the base to provide a large array of training thanks to beaches and woods. Along with a diverse ecosystem to challenge Marines and Sailors to be combat-ready, Camp Lejeune has implemented state-of-the-art technology to aid in training.
At the Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune, Tactical Combat Casualty Training is a realistic simulator used to train corpsmen to treat combat wounds. A simulated battlefield complete with explosions, smoke and moaning mannequins forces Marines and Sailors to work quickly and efficiently under pressure, learning vital lifesaving skills needed while forward deployed.
Virtual rifle and pistol ranges have been implemented into Camp Lejeune’s training arsenal to provide more opportunities for Marines and Sailors to sharpen their shooting skills in a controlled, video-aided environment that requires no use of an outdoor range or ammunition.
The Infantry Immersion Training Center allows platoons to be put through specific situations to test their readiness before forward deploying. The simulator uses everything from sensory components such as barking dogs and smells of different countries platoons may be preparing to deploy to, as well as full set-ups of rooms, villages and streets. With the help of role players and state-of-the-art video recording devices, platoon performance during certain simulations can be reviewed, discussed and altered to ensure success.
Each of these training enhancing facilities or technologies have been introduced to Camp Lejeune in the last decade and are crucial to providing top-notch, realistic scenarios.
“Threats and potential enemies are constantly changing their tactics and techniques to defeat what they know to be our tactics and techniques,” said Chip Olmstead, deputy director, Range and Training Area Management Division. “It is like a chess game in which you must always be thinking about the next potential conflict and not become overly focused on training for the last conflict. Marines must constantly evaluate, reassess and rethink how we do business in light of the actions of hostile players around the world.”
Among changes to methods of training and the capabilities Camp Lejeune provides to the Marine Corps, structural changes have been made to meet specifications to maintain efficiency.
The completion of Wilson Blvd Gate marked the end of a large project aimed at improving the traffic of an over-stressed main gate and improving the commute for base residents.
A major component of modernizing Camp Lejeune that began this year is the conversion of the coal generated steam plant to natural gas, the use of solar energy base-wide and implementing “green” standards for construction.
Over the last 76 years, Camp Lejeune’s presence has not only grown physically but economically as well, providing vast impact on the economy of the surrounding area of Onslow County.
The base contributes more than $3.5 billion each year to the local economy.
Because of the vast number of Marines and dependents living and shopping within the area, Onslow County and Camp Lejeune have worked over the last several decades to create partnerships that benefit both parties.
In January, the Marine Corps Installations Partnership Program was launched bringing together military and local entities to help streamline procedures and financial burdens. The program is the first of its kind and was created in hopes to further strengthen the relationship of Onslow County and the base.
“The mission of the program is to create collaborative environment between the city, the county, all the municipalities and the base. We’re working specifically with New River and Camp Lejeune,” said Charles Lubeshkoff, partnership program facilitator. “We want to try and take the relationships that we already have and develop them into a greater common good.”
More than 100 base and community participants have been working together to draft and implement working contracts.
Over the last decade, Camp Lejeune has been commanded by seven different commanding officers, one being Col. Adele Hodges, the first female commanding officer of the installation.
Camp Lejeune is an eight time recipient of the Commander-in-Chief’s Award for Installation Excellence.
“Receiving this recognition eight times is an enduring testament to the dedication and efforts of the thousands of men and women who every day strive to make Camp Lejeune a world class facility that enables our warriors to train to go into harm’s way while ensuring their families are taken care of,” said Nat Fahy, Marine Corps Installations East Communication, Strategy and Operations director. “It’s a tangible reflection of their consistent and exceptional commitment to the vital mission Camp Lejeune performs for the Department of Defense.”
While the physical space Camp Lejeune covers and the amount of Marines and Sailors the base trains has grown, the mission of those working and training aboard the facility has remained the same - to maintain combat-ready units for expeditionary deployment.
Camp Johnson, which now plays a crucial role in the follow-on training of thousands of Marines every year, was the first training base for black Marines. Originally known as Montford Point, black Marines attended boot camp here while the nation was still racially segregated. After the walls of segregation came down, it was named in honor of Sgt. Maj. Gilbert H. “Hashmark” Johnson in 1974, and the Marine Corps Combat Service Support Schools was located there. Outside the gate of Camp Johnson stands a solemn tribute to Marines and Sailors who gave their lives keeping the peace in Lebanon. The Beirut Memorial is the site of an annual commemoration of the tragic Oct. 23, 1983, bombing of Battalion Landing Team 1/8’s headquarters in Beirut. A visit to the Jacksonville area isn’t complete without a stop at this memorial. Additionally, adjacent to the Beirut Memorial is the 9/11 Memorial and the Onslow Vietnam Veterans Memorial. This collection of stunning memorials is referred to as Lejeune Memorial Gardens.
Camp Geiger, too, is a vital training facility. With more than 24,000 Marines undergoing Marine Combat Training at the School of Infantry every year, it is a hub of activity that mirrors the original days in 1941 when the 1st Marine Division prepared to ship out to the Pacific. Fundamental to the Marine warrior ethos is “every Marine is a Rifleman,” and it is at Camp Geiger where all Marines learn and develop their infantry warfighting skills before they attend schools to learn their specific military occupational skills.
Courthouse Bay, once home of the Marine Corps' fledgling barrage balloon endeavors in World War II, continues to be the home of amphibious assault Marines and vehicles. Additionally, Courthouse Bay has been the home of the Marine Corps Engineer School since 1942. More recently, in 1998, the Coast Guard's Port Security Training Detachment was relocated to Camp Lejeune. In 2002, the unit was renamed the Special Mission Training Center. In 2008, the unit moved to new facilities at Courthouse Bay, and the name was changed to Joint Maritime Training Center in order to more accurately reflect the unit’s diverse range of personnel and training.
The Greater Sandy Run Training Area was acquired by the Marine Corps in 1992, expanding the Base's size from 110,000 acres to 156,000 acres, and thereby enabled establishment of additional ranges and training areas that have come to be vital to tenant operating forces' training and readiness.
From the base's inception, a tradition of excellence and innovation was begun and continues today in training facilities and ranges, facilities, and services. The spectrum of excellence continues with superb safety programs, environment conservation and installation restoration efforts, landfill and recycling initiatives, water treatment, waste water treatment, communications, logistics, law enforcement, emergency services, religious ministries, housing, personal support programs, education, and much more. Camp Lejeune stands out as a superior military base.
To prepare for the range of missions from combat to humanitarian assistance, tenant and visiting units share Camp Lejeune’s 156,000 acres that include 11 miles of beach capable of supporting amphibious operations, 35 gun positions, 46 tactical landing zones, four state-of-the-art training facilities for Military Operations on Urban Terrain and 80 live-fire ranges to include the Greater Sandy Run Training Area. Military forces from around the world come to Camp Lejeune on a regular basis for bilateral, combined or joint exercises.
The base and surrounding community are home to an active-duty, dependent, retiree and civilian employee population of more than 145,000 people. The base contributes to the local economy more than $3.5 billion each year in payroll, contracts, construction and other services that support training and equipping of Marines, sailors and Coast Guardsmen.
Some services available aboard Camp Lejeune include childcare, shopping, education, family support, hunting and fishing, dining, boating and swimming. Facilities on base include banks and credit unions, the commissary, the library, hobby shops, fitness centers, the beach, theaters and more.
On April 1, 2012 Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune consolidated with Marine Corps Installations East, placing the base under the command of a brigadier general.
Camp Lejeune is a six-time recipient of the Commander-in-Chief’s Award for Installation Excellence, having most recently won the award for the Marine Corps in 2009 for its Fiscal Year 2008 performance. These awards recognized the base and its Marines, sailors and civilians on a Department of Defense level for extraordinary excellence in sustained performance or innovation across all installation support functions for the benefit of tenant commands and resident Marines, sailors, Coast Guardsmen and families. The base continues to relentlessly strive for excellence in all that it provides.
In the summer of 1982, at the request of the Lebanese government, the United States agreed to establish a U.S. military presence in that country to serve as a peacekeeping force in the conflict between warring Muslim and Christian factions. On March 24, 1983, the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit, stationed at Camp Lejeune, received orders to Beirut, Lebanon, in support of that commitment. Initially, the U.S. forces, along with French and Italian forces, provided a measure of stability. However, as diplomatic efforts failed to achieve a basis for a lasting settlement, the Muslim factions came to perceive the Marines as enemies. This led to artillery, mortar and small arms fires being directed at the Marine Corps positions — with appropriate, measured response being taken against identified targets.
In the early morning of Oct. 23, 1983, the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, headquarters building was destroyed by a non-Lebanese, terrorist-driven truck laden with compressed gas-enhanced explosives. This truck, like many others, had become a familiar sight at the airport and did not raise alarm on this morning. The resulting explosion and the collapse of the building killed 241 Marines, sailors and soldiers. Many of the victims of this atrocity were residents of Jacksonville. They were known as fathers, neighbors, church members and coaches. The community was stunned over the loss of these fine men. The Jacksonville Beautification and Appearance Commission had previously established a memorial tree program to plant trees as a living memorial to deceased friends and family members. On the afternoon of this tragic bombing, the commission met and decided to seek permission to plant memorial trees on Lejeune Boulevard, the main traffic artery joining Jacksonville and Camp Lejeune, to honor the fallen neighbors. This action resulted in an immediate response from the general public, locally and nationally, as funds began coming in to support this project. This became the “birth” of the Beirut Memorial. At the Northwoods Park Middle School a group of classes taught by Martha Warren initiated a support project to write the families of the fallen service members. These students also helped to raise funds for the memorial trees. A ninth-grader auctioned her Cabbage Patch Doll and raised $1,500 for the project. One tree was planted along Lejeune Boulevard for each lost service member and the completed tree project was dedicated March 24, 1984.
Following the tree dedication, contributions continued to come in. The commission began seeking a means to erect a simple marker to depict the history and significance of the trees. Camp Lejeune offered the commission 4.5 acres of highly visible and publicly accessible land at the corner of Lejeune Boulevard and Montford Landing Road. This gift expanded the commission’s vision of the final form of the memorial, and serious fund raising was launched. The selected design was the result of a design competition among the graduate students of the School of Design at North Carolina State University.
The commission faced a number of funding challenges, but with the assistance of some tremendous people and organizations, sufficient funds were finally received to begin the construction in May 1986. The general contractor was Onslow Construction and Utility Co. under the direction of Woody Myers and Ron Ellen. The electrical work was performed by John Baysden of Big John’s Electric Co. Ray Brown of McDonalds donated the flagpoles. The bricks are from North Carolina, and the Georgia granite was engraved by Joyner Memorials of Wilson, N.C. The completed memorial was dedicated Oct. 23, 1986, with approximately 2,000 people in attendance.
In the niche between the two broken walls, which depict the crumbled walls of the bombed headquarters building, there was a pedestal to support a statue. With the completion of the memorial plaza and funds still remaining, the commission began to explore ways to commission the statue and achieve the ultimate long range completion of the memorial. After a yearlong study of sculpture and artists, the commission agreed that Abbé Godwin, creator of North Carolina’s Vietnam Memorial in Raleigh, should be the sculptor. Godwin agreed to meet with the commission to discuss the statue concept and the financial aspects. She insisted on visiting the site for about two hours prior to the scheduled meeting. Upon meeting with the commission, she expressed her intense desire to create the sculpture and agreed to perform the work for the available funds — $60,000. This final phase would bring the total cost of the memorial to $271,000. Almost a year later, Godwin was in Long Island, N.Y., to personally oversee the casting of an exquisite bronze statue. The statue was dedicated Oct. 22, 1988, some five years after that tragic day in Beirut. A full-size epoxy replica of the statue now stands in the National Fleet Reserve Association headquarters in Alexandria, Va. Miniatures of the statue have been created for the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation to fund scholarships for military family members.
In 1991, the Beirut families added the poem, “The Other Wall,” written by Robert A. Gannon of Derry, N.H. The poem was cast in bronze and dedicated at a 1991 observance ceremony. There are 273 names and the words “THEY CAME IN PEACE” engraved on the walls of the memorial. In addition to the inscribed names of those who died in Beirut and those who have since died of injuries from that blast, there are the names of three Marine pilots from our community who were killed in Grenada. The full impact of the project is far beyond the beautiful memorial that now occupies the wooded site between Camp Lejeune and Jacksonville. The fundraising efforts, the cooperation of the entire community, the construction of the memorial and commissioning of the statue brought our civilian and military communities together to become one. Annually, an observance is held that includes the families of the deceased, military personnel and the civilian community, further cementing that relationship. Never before had a civilian community constructed a memorial of this dimension, honoring its military neighbors. The unity of the civilian and military communities is truly the impact of the Beirut Memorial.