Memorial Day, Belleau Wood Style
By MSgt. Phil Mehringer,
BELLEAU, France --
During the summer of 1918, a battle occurring in a 200-acre stand of woods, 85 kilometers north of Paris forever changed the history of the United States Marine Corps.
A ceremony commemorating the 85th anniversary of the Battle of Belleau Wood was combined with the 2003 Memorial Day events recently at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery. The 42-acre cemetery, nestled at the foothill of Belleau Wood, is the final resting place for 2,289 Americans who gave their lives to repel the last German offensive of WW I.
Gen. Michael Hagee, Commandant of the Marine Corps, and SgtMaj. Alford McMichael, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, were on hand to participate in the ceremony.
The Marine Corps Battle Color Detachment, Drum and Bugle Corps, Silent Drill Platoon, all from Marine Barracks Washington, D.C., also participated in the anniversary ceremony. Supporting the event were Marines from U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe located in Stuttgart, Germany.
"On the 6th of June, 1918, while the German offensive seemed to be victorious, while the road to Paris seemed open before the enemy, the Marines of the 4th Brigade, aware of the importance of the mission the high command had given to them, faced the opponent," said General Stouff, Inspector, French 'Armee de Terre', as he addressed the thousands that came to witness the event. "They did not consider stepping back."
"Not just stopping the German offensive, they counter-attacked," said General Stouff. "Without artillery support, in open space, with fixed bayonets, these Marines coming from all American states assaulted the wood where Germans dug in."
"Bombed, gassed, machine-gunned, they broke down the enemy disposition. Tenacious under fire, gallant in the assault," he added.
"Their courage and pugnacity finally won the day and on the 25th of June, 1918, the main German strong point was seized. This was the end of the battle of Belleau Wood. One thousand ninety-five Marines were killed in action and 3,500 were wounded or gassed," said General Stouff.
Many events that happened during the Battle of Belleau Wood, officially renamed on 30 June 1918 as "Wood of the Marine Brigade" by the Commanding General of the French 6th Army, are embedded in the thoughts and memories of U.S. Marines today.
The significance of Belleau Wood is carried with Marines today. While walking in the ranks of Marines one may be called "Devil Dog." Or, quite often, in a sign of loyalty to the Corps, the words are embedded in the skin of "Devil Dogs" throughout the Corps.
The term "Devil Dog" has its origins at Belleau Wood. It was in a dispatch from the German front lines to their higher headquarters explaining the current battle conditions that described the fighting abilities of the new, fresh Americans as fighting like "Tuefel Hunden" or "Hounds from Hell."
Another famous event took place during the early days of the battle. When the U.S. Marines just arrived and were trying to get to the front line while passing through battle-fatigued friendly forces, the command was shouted "Retreat!" The famous reply was sent back by Capt. Loyd Williams of the 5th Marine Regiment, "Retreat, Hell! We just got here."
Belleau Wood is also where GySgt. Dan Daily yelled his famous words, "Come on you sons-of-bitches -- Do you want to live forever!"
This small tract of land is where legends were made -- our legends. That realization was evident in the eyes of the Marines here as they watched and took part in the ceremony.