Pronouncing The 'R' In Camp Lejeune
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
There's a long-running debate at a Marine Corps base in North Carolina. We're not talking about the debate over the policy in Afghanistan. It's about pronunciation.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Just the kind of thing that ends up absorbing precious minutes of our day here in the newsroom.
NORRIS: The big question in that debate is this: Do you say Camp Lejeune or Camp Lejerne(ph)?
Here's Catherine Welch, from member station WHQR, to sort this all out.
CATHERINE WELCH: Scour Marine Corps history, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a tougher, more accomplished Marine than General John Archer Lejeune. He fought in World War I and later, as the 13th commandant, he rescued the Marine Corps from losing its ability to fight on both land and at sea - a real Marine's Marine.
Mr. PATRICK BRENT (Former Marine-Freelance Journalist): This man saved the Marine Corps.
WELCH: That's Patrick Brent, a former Marine.
Mr. BRENT: The entire Marine Corps, all the jobs associated, would unquestionably not exist had he not existed.
WELCH: Brent is now a freelance journalist who was working on a story about how to say General Lejeune's name when he realized that just about everyone mispronounces it. So he teamed up with another former Marine, George Barros(ph), and started a movement to get people to stop calling it Camp Lejeune and start calling it Camp Lejerne. They talked with top brass, put up billboards, even made ball caps.
Mr. GEORGE BARROS (Former Marine): My hat says: With respect, Lejerne. They see my hat and they say, whats that for? And then I tell them. And they say why? Say there's no R in it.
WELCH: That's the problem. There's no R in the name. It looks like Lejeune but it's pronounced Lejerne. And Barros says when General Lejeune and his era died off, people didnt see an R.
Mr. BARROS: It was Lejerne here up until the middle '60s, and then it just went to pot. If I can get these rednecks down here to say Lejerne, we got it made.
WELCH: Barros may think all he has to do is get civilians off base to stop saying Lejeune, but he's going to have to put in some work on base. Thats where I asked a few Marines having lunch at the commissary a simple question: Their name, rank, and where they were based.
Corporal BLACKMAN: Corporal Blackman. Im with Third Marine Special Operations Battalion, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Gunnery Sergeant DONALD J. JONES: Gunnery Sergeant Donald J. Jones at Camp Lejeune.
WELCH: Both of those Marines say they know it's Lejerne, but Gunnery Sergeant Jones says old habits are hard to break.
GSgt. JONES: Some of the newer Marines, they call it Lejerne cause thats how they've been introduced to it. Some of us older Marines, we still have the bad habit of calling it Lejeune, cause we've been here for 16 or 18 years.
WELCH: Across the commissary, Gunnery Sergeant William Gorman is finishing his baked chicken.
Where are you based?
Gunnery Sergeant WILLIAM GORMAN: Camp Lejerne, North Carolina.
WELCH: What do people say to you when they hear the way you pronounce it?
GSgt. GORMAN: Some will correct me. Some will know the proper pronunciation.
WELCH: Now, what if somebody who ranks lower than you calls it Lejeune?
GSgt. GORMAN: He gets corrected.
WELCH: What if somebody who ranks higher than you calls it Lejeune?
GSgt. GORMAN: It might be mentioned.
WELCH: This is how the Marine Corps wants the change to happen, from the Marine's top general on down to the former base commander, Colonel Richard Flatau, who says the Lejerne pronunciation has a better chance of sticking through respect.
Colonel RICHARD FLATAU (Commanding Officer, Base Camp Lejeine): We didnt get this way, you know, overnight, and we're not going to turn it around overnight.
WELCH: Whether it will take time or orders, nobody I spoke with could say for sure what it would take to get people both on and off base to change the way they say the name.
For NPR News, Im Catherine Welch at Camp Lejeune - at Camp Lejerne, North Carolina.