Kyle Philip LeJeune was content reading residential gas meters in Chicago’s western suburbs -- until he realized his true calling.
With a proud surname rich in Marine Corps history and tradition, the 2003 Sandwich High School graduate recently joined the ranks alongside four other LeJeunes, including his great-great grandfather, the 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps, Lt. Gen. John A. LeJeune.
The other LeJeune men having served or currently serving in the Marine Corps, include Kyle’s father, Glenn Philip LeJeune, grandfather Amos Philip LeJeune, and cousin Dennis Michael LeJeune.
Known as the "greatest of all Leathernecks" and the "Marine's Marine,” Lt. Gen. LeJeune served as a Marine officer for 39 years. His service also included leading the U.S. Army 2nd Division during World War I.
The 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps’ legacy continues today as his Marine Corps Birthday message, first delivered on Nov. 10, 1921, is read annually Nov. 10, wherever Marines are posted throughout the world.
Still, Kyle was not so sure he’d ever be a Marine despite the rich lineage of Marine Corps service and a lifelong goal of continuing the family tradition.
“I had recruiters and everything at the high school during lunch time, and I was ready to rock-and-roll out of high school,” said the 23-year-old LeJeune, who wrestled for the Indians throughout high school.
Ironically, it was Kyle’s father, who served as a military policeman in the Marine Corps in the early ‘70s, who spoke with the Marine Corps recruiters at the time and initially advised his son against enlistment.
“My father didn’t see reason for me joining the Marine Corps. He said I was already disciplined and a hard-worker,” said Kevin.
Instead, he got a job as a gas meter reader with a northern Illinois gas company after graduating from Sandwich High School .
“My job … was not enough for me,” he said. “It was a good job, but people change, and I changed.
“My parents’ advice and support means a lot to me, but you have to want to be your own person, to do what you want to do. Your parents aren’t going to live your life; you are. If you’re not going to do something that gives you pride and fulfillment, then you’re not going to do your best and not going to enjoy your life,” Kevin said.
"Like any father, I wanted to protect my son from experiencing some of the things that I saw in Vietnam . I didn’t want him to see that," Glenn LeJeune said about not originally endorsing his son’s decision. But, “I saw a determination and a want in his eyes that I've never seen before in 22 years. I have so many Marine friends that I still keep in touch with. He saw that, and I think he wanted to be a part of that special family.”
So after deciding to find out what exactly the Marine Corps had to offer, he walked into Recruiting Substation Aurora, Ill., with his cousin, also a Marine, and met canvassing recruiter Staff Sgt. Sergio Barrios. Surprisingly, Barrios said enlisting him was not the “easy in” some may assume.
“His father was a 20-year gunnery sergeant, and they knew a lot about the Marine Corps. They knew the ropes and had a lot of questions and concerns,” said Barrios.
However, Kyle liked what he heard and made it official March 26, shipping to recruit training in April and graduating as a Marine 13 weeks later.
“I feel like I’m a little part of Marine Corps history now,” said Barrios, 28, from Austin , Texas . “There’s a base (that bears) his last name.”
Ironically, Kyle said he learned more about his famous great-great grandfather after his decision to accept the challenge of becoming a United States Marine.
“Back when I was 18, I tried doing some research, but there’s not alot of information that my family has on (Lt. Gen. Lejeune) because everything was so confidential,” said Kyle, better known now as “Pvt. LeJeune,” who is currently attending Marine Combat Training at the School of Infantry, Camp Pendleton, Calif. “All I knew was that I was related. The best person I could’ve asked was my grandfather, but he’s passed away now.”
“I gained more knowledge during recruit training about Gen. LeJeune than before I left. While sitting in the classrooms during boot camp, the instructors would be going over Marine Corps history, and I was always hearing his name. Every time his name would be mentioned, everyone would look at me,” said Pvt. LeJeune, who admittedly felt extra pressure to perform to live up to his name.
“I’d tried to keep (my name) a secret, but it’s hard when that nametape is on your cammies,” said the 5-foot, 10-inch, 168-pound Marine. Fortunately, a discussion with his battalion and regimental sergeants major kept his mind right.
“They both told me that it’s great to have that last name, but, ‘you still have to be your own LeJeune,’” he recalled.
Kyle is not yet sure whether he wants to serve four or 30 years in the Corps, but he is content for now with carrying on the LeJeune tradition of service while still following his own path.
“It makes me feel proud to be a LeJeune,” said the future food service specialist. “It makes me think of all the great things he did for our country. Knowing my great-great grandfather, I know he would be pretty happy.”