Marine and Archivist
By Sabrina Messenger
When one “googles’ for information on Eugenia Lejeune, Major, USMCR, most of what one finds defaults back to her illustrious father, General John Archer Lejeune. I have a feel she would’ve wanted it that way. I’m of the impression that Eugenia was perfectly happy not being in the spotlight, despite her family pedigree.
However, don’t be fooled. Eugenia didn’t rest of the family laurels. She made a quiet but indelible mark of her own when it comes to preserving military history for posterity. I found her story quite fascinating, so I’m pleased to share what I’ve learned of her.
Eugenia was born on February 14 (some sources cite September 14) in 1904, in the state of Virginia. At the time, her father was in Panama commanding battalions of Marines.
Throughout her adolescence and young adulthood, she lived much like other women who came from military officer families. She was well educated. She socialized with the elite. Indeed, you’ll find the family name in the 1922 Washington DC Social Register. She was also well traveled. If one goes to Ancestry.com, they will find her name on several passenger lists for ships heading to places like Hawaii, Hong Kong, London and Cherbourg, France.
However, Eugenia Dickson Lejeune was no ordinary Southern debutante. She appeared to be different from other ladies in her social circle. She was a librarian by profession (she worked at the Norfolk, VA public library), and apparently sought to do something meaningful in her life. So on 22 July 1943, eight months after her father’s death, she enlisted in the United States Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. Yes, it made the papers, but not in the society column! However, I get the feeling she, like other WRs, probably didn’t have to time to clip any articles as recruit training in New River, NC tended to keep one quite busy!
When it came to attaining rank, she didn’t trade in on daddy’s name to get ahead rapidly, either. Rather, she started at the bottom, as a Private! According to information obtained from the Marine Corps Muster rolls, she was promoted to PFC in October 1943. Eugenia was a member of the seventh officer’s course that graduated from New River. Upon graduation in November 1943, she was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant. A promotion to 1st Lieutenant came by October 1945. However Eugenia didn’t receive her Captain’s bars until the spring of 1946, after the war’s end. She went on to join the regular Marine Corps, and eventually retired at the rank of Major in the late 1950s.
Not much is said about her overall time in the Corps with the exception of one quip from Colonel Ruth Cheney Street as told of in the book “Free a Marine to Fight” by Col Mary Stremlow, USMCR
In a 1979 interview, Colonel Streeter confided she was greatly amused that WR's were in "secret and confidential files" because "... they always claim that women can't keep a confidence, you know." One WR second lieutenant assigned to secret and confidential files presumably had little trouble with the security clearance — Eugenia D. Lejeune, the youngest daughter of Major General Commandant John A. Lejeune.
Mind, Eugenia as no ‘007’ spy. She didn’t even have the 02 MOS. Rather, she was the officer-in-charge of the record section and military reference library at Quantico. Maj. Lejeune was put in charge of locating and classifying documents relating to the history of amphibious warfare. Eugenia was placed on an inactive duty status in 1946 in the reserves, but remained at the Marine Corps School as librarian-archivist in a civilian capacity until 1949. She, then,became a librarian at the Armed Forces Staff College Library.
After her time in the Corps, Eugenia and her sister Laura also began quietly turning their attentions to preserving their father’s legacy. In 1961, Eugenia and Laura gave their father’s personal papers to the Library of Congress, so we have those two to thank for the wealth of information we now have on the 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps.
From the late 50s up to the early 1970s, Eugenia worked at Virginia Military Institute (VMI), the very same place where Gen Lejeune was superintendent. She was the first archivist and librarian for the George C Marshall Research Library. At the Marshall Library, Eugenia oversaw a number of projects involving the history of VMI as well as the history of Gen. Lejeune. In the mid 1960s, the “Misses Lejeune” as they routinely described themselves in written correspondence, had the privilege of seeing their father honored at that same museum.
Eugenia had a real passion for her work. When asked if being an archivist was boring, she responded “Far from it! Even dust laden papers from an attic, with no organization donated hesitatingly by the living members of the family pose a challenge. When one starts sorting these papers, an individual emerges. You find out who he was, what he did, and what his interests were–all a part of living history.”
She was well-respected by all for her competence and professionalism as an archivist. Robert Debs Heinl Jr. Colonel USMC Retired list Eugenia among others for assistance with his 1966 book, Dictionary of Military and Naval Quotations. Army Historian Forrest Pogue had very high praise for Eugenia as he should. After all, she was instrumental in helping him put together the biography on George Marshall. He said of Eugenia:
“Miss Eugenia D. Lejeune, the librarian of the Marshall Research Center and my chief administrative assistant, has been of tremendous help to me in every phase of the writing of this book. She has helped on research, checked and compiled footnotes, read newspaper files, run down references in books and periodicals, read proof, prepared the index and bibliography, and in dozens of ways proved herself an invaluable assistant.”
Major Eugenia Lejeune, who never married, passed away in March 1971 in Lexington, Virginia. She was 67 years old. She is buried alongside her parents at Arlington National Cemetery.
Sources:Ancestry.com White Hoffman, Nancy Lee (February 2009). “Corps Album; A tribute to Women in the Corps”. Leatherneck Magazine (Quantico, Virginia: Marine Corps Association) (February 2009): 22. Stremlow, Mary “Free a Marine to Fight: Women Marines in World War II Library of Congress National Archives 1922 Washington Social Register Virginia Military Institute (VMI) digital archives collection http://digitalcollections.vmi.edu/cdm/search/collection/p15821coll7/field/descri/searchterm/Lejeune www.marshallfoundation.org http://wmatarheelchapter.yolasite.com/women-marine-history.php http://www.mca-marines.org/gazette/looking-john-lejeune