Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Poor General Lemonnier!


Sometimes life here is fascinating.  Most recently I have been intrigued by the very multinational aspects of life here on Camp Lemonnier.  Before going on though, please permit the following excursus.   

In a casual comment made last week by one of the French surgeons, I learned that "Lemonier" - the name by which the American camp is known - is incorrect.  Doing a little research I discovered that the original French base had been named after General Emile Rene Lemonnier, the commanding general of the second brigade Indochine, under the Vichy French administration in Indochina, who met his untimely end when he was executed - beheaded actually - by the Japanese in March of 1945 at the outset of the "Second French Indochina Campaign".  This tantalizing bit of history, which is almost all I have been able to ferret out,  has me wondering exactly what a Vichy administration was doing in Vietnam at that late date - surely France had fallen to the Allies by then - and why the Japanese, who were the nominal allies of Germany and presumably of the Vichy, were attacking it.  Surely Japan had bigger fish to fry.  If anyone out there has any other info, or a recommended source on the topic, please let me know.

Anyway, in the transition from a French Foreign Legion base to an American (or multi-national) one, the second "n" was dropped from the unfortunate general's name.  A further indignity heaped on the late brigadier, which I fear will likely not be corrected any time soon.  As you may imagine, there now exists quite an impressive array of signage, stationery, web pages, T-shirts, etc., with the erroneous spelling affixed.  In this era of multiple demands on the military budget I doubt that there will be much support for the expense of a base-wide correction.  And thus "Lemonier" it will remain.  I know next to nothing about General Lemonnier, as I have said.  A good leader?  A nice man?  A petty military martinet?  Who can say?  I shall presume, I think, that he does not deserve the final indignity of having  his most visible legacy on this planet misspelled, so from here on, dear reader, shall be writing to you from Camp Lemonnier.  Ain't life full of  interesting ironies though? 

Well, if the shade of the  General would be peeved by the institutionalized error at his namesake,  I wonder how much more upset he would have  been to have observed yesterday the arrival of a large Japanese P-3 (submarine reconnaissance plane) squadron here in support of anti-piracy operations? We went from a small 20 man Japanese advance party to about 150 officers and men overnight.  The photo above was taken from the upper level of 11 Degrees North - the all hands club - and shows the reception for the JDF squadron thrown by the base last evening.  There were speeches by all manner of dignitaries, and various  hors d'oeuvres and, of course,  the mandatory sheet cake, at the cutting of which both Japanese and American officers were admonished to come and get a piece.  A sort of butter icing brotherhood, I suppose.  I'm not sure what the Japanese made of the appetizers - fried cheese sticks and bacon wrapped pieces of Kielbasa - but ever polite,  they turned to with a right good will, and the evening was a success.  I essayed my carefully studied Japanese phrase,  kon bon wa, or "Good evening" only once but am pleased to report it was at least understood.  The Japanese will be here for the long term, rotating new squadrons through every few months.

Shortly before these events, our Army camp security force was rotated out,  and the previous regular Army contingent was replaced with a force from the Army National Guard, based in Puerto Rico.  As you can imagine, the vibe of the base changed significantly then too - the mellifluous  sound of Puerto Rican Spanish, mingling now in the air with the elegant sibilants of French, the broader strains of Nigerian, British and South African English,  and the harsher music of Somali.  This is to say nothing of Tagalog, Turkish and Korean.  There is one lonely Romanian officer here as well, who alas I fear must have to wait until he Skypes his family at home to hear his native tongue.  An interesting place.

I had "duty" last night, and found myself in the uncomfortable position of trying to reach the French opthalmologist, from the American base, in Djibouti, to refer a Turkish contract worker with a bad corneal abrasion, and his Polish safety officer.  I swear, they don't need doctors here, they need diplomats!

In keeping with the international theme,  I was visited today by our colleagues from the German base.  I met with their sole medical officer, a personable flight surgeon who did three years of training in the US, including Flight Surgery at Pensacola and whose youngest son was born at Portsmouth Naval Hospital.  Although we provide some support to the German forces - mostly dental - it is they who provide the real value in the relationship as they possess the only hyperbaric chamber with reliable maintenance records in the country, and provide us coverage for both our military and amateur civilian divers.  As the sole (former) diving medical officer on base, it is my job to be the liaison with the chamber and this visit was a "get acquainted"visit with medical officer and chamber operator.  It was a nice visit, and we are promised a return visit to the German base, but I can't help but suspect that part of their desire to stop by had to do with being tired of the food at the Sheraton, where they are billeted, and a desire to see what was available at the Navy Exchange.  No matter, they were nice volk, and I'll look forward to seeing them again.

A very interesting place, as I say.  I'm sure there are serious things going on at all the operational, trebly locked and guarded activities here on Camp Lemonnier, but some days it feels like a big, international summer camp.  If I could just find out where the s'mores are...

Well, I'll stop there and bid you all sayonara until the next time.

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