Book Review: The Greatest of All Leathernecks: John Archer Lejeune and the Making of the Modern Marine Corps,


by Joseph Arthur Simon

Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2019. Pp. viii, 350. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 0807171972

The Father of the Modern Marine Corps

In a military service that has produced a number of almost mythic figures, none stand higher in esteem than John A. Lejeune (1867-1942), who, rather surprisingly has long stood in need of a comprehensive biography, a gap well filled by Dr. Simon’s effort.

Simon, a retired British educator, obviously looks at Lejeune’s family background, early life, time at the Naval Academy, and service ashore and afloat in the Marine Corps. Lejeune’s career brought him to command of the combined Army-Marine 2nd Division in France in 1918 and then to nearly nine years as Commandant of the Marine Corps (1920-1929), a tenure in not matched since. Much of this is well known, having been told before.

Simon goes beyond the well known. He looks at Lejeune’s role in developing the Marine Corps school system and, perhaps most importantly, his work in the creation of the Corps’ amphibious mission. Usually treated as a development of the 1930s, Simon demonstrates that from rather early in his career Lejeune was increasingly interested in the what were originally called “Advanced Base Operations”, pushing new ideas in doctrine, techniques, and technology. In addition, while Commandant, even as he oversaw Marine missions in China and Latin America, he battled with Congress and the Navy for money and personnel to implement these new ideas and programs.

Simon does make a few slips. For example, he states that despite Lejeune’s Southern roots “race relations” in the Corps were never a problem – easy since the Marine Corps was all white – and he doesn’t adequately address criticisms by some historians that the general was complicit in the ouster of his predecessor as CMC. Despite this, and the need for a few maps to illustrate some of the events in Lejeune’s early career.

Nevertheless, The Greatest of All Leathernecks is a valuable addition to the literature about the Marine Corps and amphibious operations.



Note: The Greatest of All Leathernecks is also available in several e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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