View Full Version : The Corps' Newest Honorary Marine

06-18-08, 06:53 AM
The Corps' Newest Honorary Marine
June 10, 2008
Marine Corps News|by Sgt Rocco DeFilippis

BELLEAU, France - For most, the title of United States Marine is earned with sweat, hard work and commitment at the Corps' recruit depots and officers candidate school. However, there are a select few who earn the title through extraordinary service and dedication to the Corps. From time to time, these civilians are recognized by the Marine Corps to share the title of Honorary Marine in an effort to reinforce the bond between the American people and the Corps.

Gilles Lagin, a man who has devoted much of his adult life to preserving the Marine Corps' history and legacy during the Battle of Belleau Wood in World War I, is the Corp's newest Honorary Marine, recognized by Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James T. Conway during a small reception here, May 25.

Lagin is unique in that he joins a select group of Honorary Marines, but also, he is one of few non-U.S. citizens to earn the title.

According to statistics from Headquarters Marine Corps, Lagin becomes the 62nd Honorary Marine since 1992 when their records began, and only the second non-U.S. citizen to receive the designation.

"At first, it took me sometime to realize that I had become a Marine," Lagin, the 44-year old Marigny-en-Orxois, France resident said. "To be honest, I didn't sleep very well for a few days. I was thinking, all the time, about this distinction and replaying, in my mind, the scene when the commandant appointed me as Honorary Marine. Now, I sleep better, but I still think about it every day."

For Lagin, the events of May 25 were more than 33 years in the making. Beginning in 1975, Lagin has devoted much of his spare time to his passion of preserving the history of the U.S. Marine Corps in the Château-Thierry region of France.

During this time, Lagin has established himself as a competent authority on the Marine Corps involvement in the region during the Great War. His focus has been the Battle of Belleau Wood, the first major engagement for the Marines that helped to turn the tide of war, and his efforts have culminated in the opening of a museum he built in his own house in Marigny-en-Orxois.

The fascination Lagin has with the Battle of Belleau Wood started when he was about 9 years old after a field trip to visit the American memorials in Château-Thierry and at Belleau. This experience, combined with stories from his grandfather, a World War II veteran, sparked a quest for knowledge that Lagin has carried with him all of these years.

"I was very impressed by the Memorial in the forest and the cemetery, but at the same time, there was no specific information about what happened there," Lagin said. "I was looking to find information in school books about these battles, but it was really nothing about the Battle of Château-Thierry and Belleau Wood."

From this simple beginning, Lagin has spent the last 33 years working to preserve and share the history and memory of the Americans who fought with their French allies in the region. The fork-lift mechanic said his hobby grew into a deep and true passion for Marine Corps history.

"It is like a mission for me to teach people about the American involvement in World War I," Lagin said. "(My passion) is to preserve the history and memory of these men. (This history) was a little bit forgotten here in France, a lot of people only think of World War II. It is important too to preserve the shared history of our two nations, and the Franco-American friendship."

It is because of Lagin's passion and his contribution to Marine Corps history that he was chosen to receive the title Honorary Marine. Lagin said he had no idea that he was under consideration for the title, and was under the impression that he was just going to be introduced to the commandant at the Memorial Day reception in Belleau.

"I didn't know," Lagin said. "I was just thinking that all my Marine friends wanted me to meet the commandant. I was very honored, because to me, it is the highest recognition I could receive for my work."

According to the Marine Corps order that regulates the Honorary Marine process, the title is reserved for terminally ill children that have some unique or qualifying link to the Marine Corps, deceased individuals whose actions or contributions on behalf of the Marine Corps would have merited consideration before their death, and individuals like Lagin, who have given extraordinary service or support to the Marine Corps for whom any lesser form of recognition would be insufficient.

The nomination process is highly screened and only the commandant has authority to approve nominations. According to statistics from Headquarters Marine Corps, in the past 16 years, nearly a third of the applications have not made it through the rigorous screening process.

"I was simply astonished to witness the great lengths that Gilles went through to preserve the history of Belleau Wood and U.S. Marine Corps at great cost to himself," said Maj. Keith Moore, Marine Corps Forces Africa administrative plans and operations officer, who participated in one of Lagin's tours of Belleau Wood. "It was a befitting tribute to bestow the honorary title of 'Marine' on a man passionately consumed with telling the story of great valor and sacrifice by our Corps in battle some 90 years ago."

For Lagin, the title of Honorary Marine serves as motivation to continue on with his passion for preserving the history of the Corps in the Château-Thierry region of France.

"(This recognition) is the best encouragement to continue my important work," Lagin said. "Now I'll not do it only as a Frenchman having a great passion for the Marine Corps history in World War I, but also as a Marine; keeping high the history, tradition, and spirit of the Corps and teaching it to future generations. I'll continue to be the best support here in France."