CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
The former landowners of Camp Lejeune celebrated their annual reunion at Courthouse Bay aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, Sunday.
The former landowners and their descendants gather to see old friends and talk about what it was like before Camp Lejeune was built, share memories and keep history alive.
“It was a laid-back community; people loved each other,” said Emily Dexter Ezzell, a descendant of a former landowner. “If you didn’t farm for a living, you fished and maybe you did both.”
In 1941, the federal government decided to build Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina as its location in the proximity of the Wilmington and Morehead City ports made it ideal for an east coast amphibious training facility to prepare troops with capabilities to support the U.S. through World War II and the various conflicts that emerged after 1941. They notified the local residents who were later compensated.
“When they got the news that they had to move, most people didn’t believe it,” said Ezzell.
During that time, it was hard for families to move.
“We had to be out by Oct. 15, 1941, and my dad had been kind of slow in finding a place to move to,” said Marlene Robinson Blake, the daughter of a former landowner. “It was hard trying to find a place back in the ‘30s during the Depression.”
Moving away from their homes was jarring to the former owners.
“Some of the people who moved off were older,” said Ezzel. “They resented it and they never got over it. Losing your home and having to move out was very traumatic, especially for the older people.”
As the older generation disappeared, their descendants started to host the reunions.
“We started to realize how important our history was,” said Ezzell. “We decided we needed to memorialize it.”
The reunions are set to continue on the first Sunday of every October.