Camp Lejeune is steeped in history. It was established in September 1941 as an amphibious east coast Marine Corps base and is still in use as one of America’s premier military training facilities.
Since its beginning, Camp Lejeune has been home to many military service members, civilians, and their families. Here’s a look at what life in Camp Lejeune has been like for them over the years.
World War II – 1941 to 1950
Camp Lejeune began with a few wooden-framed tent barracks, support facilities, and a naval hospital. The initial focus was on putting up buildings – or rather shelter – necessary for military training activities. But real houses and Camp Lejeune family accommodation quickly followed.
The first houses were constructed in 1941 to house military personnel and civilians who were working on the base. More family housing was built in 1944, with just over 1,100 units being available by the end of World War II.
An elementary school was built in 1941, then the first high school in 1944. And the camp’s first recreational facilities were installed between 1942 and 1943. One of these was the Jacksonville USO which was dedicated on April 19, 1942.
There were many spouses and children on base during this time. Some marines came to Camp Lejeune already married, while others met their future spouse while enlisted and married in a chapel on base.
One might think that wartime base construction would keep things basic. But there were plenty of activities for a World War II Camp Lejeune wife to do while her husband was away. By the time the war was halfway done, the base had a 36-hole golf course, a stadium, 9 movie theaters, fishponds, libraries, churches, a bird sanctuary, athletic fields, and a beachfront.
And we can’t forget about the Victory Gardens. This was a World War II staple across the allied world and the average Camp Lejeune family had one on their home’s land.
These amenities helped keep Camp Lejeune family life during World War II fairly close to normal.
Post-War, Korean War, to Vietnam – 1945 to 1960
More residential construction began once World War II ended. Camp Lejeune added a major 1,054-unit subdivision named Tarawa Terrace, along with apartments and houses on civilian property in Jacksonville.
However, even widespread construction wasn’t enough to house the rapidly growing marine and civilian population. Trailer parks were also added throughout the park.
Other buildings were added that made Camp Lejeune life feel a little more normal. The base got a shopping center with salons, a pharmacy, supermarket, post office, and other stores. Another shopping center was built in the off-base military housing area.
Leisure and recreation improved towards the end of the 50s. Plus, the first Camp Lejeune babies were now getting into their teenage years. And they needed to be kept occupied.
The camp added a youth center, more schools, kindergartens, a nursery school, a school bus system, and a babysitting service. For sports and leisure, residents could enjoy fishing, hunting, 14 miles of Atlantic beachfront, boating, canoeing, horse riding, sport shooting, golfing, bowling, movies, swimming pools, and more.
A post-war Camp Lejeune family now had all the trappings of quintessential suburban 50s Americana life. Home with a garden, churches, shopping centers, schools for their children, babysitters, and healthy recreation activities. Now it was time for the social clubs.
USO Jacksonville remained open after the war. Typical entertainment for families included roller skating, pool, basketball, miniature golf, and classic big-band dance nights.
But a Camp Lejeune wife also had a social club just for her. In 1950, the Staff Non-Commissioned Officer’s (SNCO) Wives Club was formed as a way for spouses to charitably serve the wider community. They also opened a thrift shop in 1960 which is still running to this day.
Mid-Vietnam to End of the Cold War – 1960 to 1980
The camp’s population expanded again during the Vietnam war. Marine helicopters were used for the first time and the base needed an air facility, more residences for pilots, and services for their dependents.
The air station side felt like home with amenities that included its own elementary school, medical facilities, bowling alley, tennis, basketball, picnic areas, outdoor swimming pool, miniature golf, hobby shops, and a movie theater.
Social clubs founded in the 50s continued to evolve. The Camp Lejeune wife had more formal and informal clubs and support groups to join. These clubs focused on giving them structured social support along with engaging, worthwhile, and mentally stimulating activities.
There were a few troubles, including racial tensions, desegregation hiccups, and drug abuse. And Marines weren’t always seen as being of the highest quality. This shifted later in the 70s after the draft was done away with.
The Department of Defense made an effort to recruit the finest candidates. Their strategy included providing excellent family accommodations and a higher quality of life.
It was time for even more new construction, which included townhouses rather than subpar trailers. Higher pay meant that marines and their families could afford cars and off-base housing. By the late 1970s, 85% of the population had a car. In the 40s, only Commanding Officers, Executive Officers, and First Sergeants typically had one. Marines were also allowed to have motorcycles.
Post-Cold War to Present – 1980s to Now
Since the cold war time, changes and improvements to Camp Lejeune family life have primarily focused on correcting environmental issues, improving waste treatment and water infrastructure, and improving the quality of housing available.
Tarawa Terrace, first built in 1951 was demolished in 2010 and replaced with energy-efficient, asbestos-free housing.
All Camp Lejeune housing was privatized on October 1, 2007. 70% of Camp Lejeune’s marine families now live off-base in the surrounding Jacksonville community.
Camp LeJeune now has all the staples and amenities of a true community, including banking services, childcare, dining, shopping, theaters, fitness centers, outdoor sports, and other recreational activities. It’s integrated into the wider Jacksonville, NC community with housing available on or off-base.
The base and private community have grown and flourished together and now provide a home for 170,000 marines, military-employed civilians, and their families.
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