Jacksonville, North Carolina is home to Camp Lejeune (the East Coast’s largest marine corp base), and it’s a town that celebrates and welcomes its military with wide open arms. One wonderful example is Lejeune Memorial Gardens, which honors generations of military heritage through a series of memorials.
Whether you have ties to the military or not (I don’t), you can’t help but be moved by these beautifully designed tributes, and any visit to Jacksonville should include a stop here.
Lejeune Memorial Gardens
I’ve included some of the background information and symbology in the following overview of the various memorials, and Visit Jacksonville has a printable guide here. You’ll also find informational placards near the memorials when you arrive.
“They came in peace.”
It was just to be a peacekeeping mission when military forces were sent to Beirut, Lebanon in 1983, but two hundred forty-three servicemen lost their lives because a truck bomb exploded and destroyed the Marine barracks. Many now consider the Beirut bombing to be the opening salvo in the War on Terrorism.
The memorial began with the planting of trees (one for each lost serviceman) and when donations continued to roll in after the tree dedication ceremony, the memorial was expanded to what you see now. A marine stands guard in between the two broken walls. One side of the wall bears the inscription “THEY CAME IN PEACE”, and the other side lists 273 names — those who died immediately or from injuries sustained in the bombing along with three Jacksonville Marine pilots killed in Grenada.
The Beirut Memorial is the largest military memorial ever to be funded completely by public donations, and it’s a perfect example of how Jacksonville embraces its military roots.
This is the second largest Vietnam Veteran memorial in the nation, and it’s particularly moving since it’s one of the few to list all the names of the fallen. The 58,229 names are etched alphabetically in glass walls which encircle a dome and a fountain. The fountain has five jets to represent each of the military branches, and inscribed on the dome are the words to Taps.
It’s really a beautiful place to reflect on those we’ve loved and lost.
Montford Point Marine Memorial
This memorial honors the first African Americans to become Marines. These courageous men enlisted in the Marine Corps after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s executive order allowing it in spite of the fact they were not wanted by the very corps they pledged to serve. They were segregated to Montford Point (now called Camp Johnson) for eight years, and they served with great valor despite the bigotry, harassment and deplorable treatment they received.
The 15-foot tall bronze statue honoring the Montford Point Marines stands near an anti-aircraft gun, the primary weapon used by the battalions to which most of the Montford Point Marines were assigned. The stars on the wall number around 20,000 and represent the number of Montford Point Marines that served during WWII. The use of stars rather than names symbolizes the sad fact nobody kept a complete roster of the Montford Point Marines.
This beam from the World Trade Center was the first beam to leave New York City, and it was presented in appreciation of the fact that the Marines were the first into Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attack on the Twin Towers. It was carried to Jacksonville on a New York City fire engine.
Eagle, Globe and Anchor Sculpture
Located at the entryway of the future Museum of the Marine atop a reflecting pool and adjacent to the Lejeune Memorial Gardens is the largest eagle, globe, and anchor statue in the world. The eagle, globe, and anchor make up the official United States Marine Corps emblem, and this statue retains the insignia’s basic elements interpreted with artistic creativity. The stars on the globe represent the major battles and deployments of Carolina Marines.
Freedom Fountain is located at the gateway to downtown Jacksonville (near Lejeune Memorial Gardens), and it’s a must-see. The medallions of each of the five branches of the military are suspended in arches behind the fountain, and flags fly for each of them as well. The largest of the fountains stands for freedom, the other three represent federal, state, and local governments and the water jets represent the 50 United States.
Most nights the lights shine red, white and blue at the Freedom Fountain, but they were lit in green for St. Patrick’s Day when I was there.
The Lejeune Memorial Gardens are located just outside the gates of Camp Johnson in a publicly accessible park. It beautifully honors the legacy of our nation’s armed services and Carolina’s own Marines in this quiet, peaceful place for reflection, and the significance of each of the memorials will be equally appreciated by residents, military and visitors alike.
Lejeune Memorial Gardens: Montford Landing Rd, Jacksonville, NC 28541
For more information: VisitJacksonvilleNC.com