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Sunday, July 7, 2013

18+ DAYS in AEF's Footsteps, DAY 6: Aisne-Marne Cemetary, Belleau Wood, France

U.S. Government photo, public domain
(disputed locale: either Belleau Wood or in the Argonne)
The battle of Belleau Wood, June 1-26, 1918 along the Marne River northeast of Paris was the battle that the US Marine Corps marks as one of its most honorable.

Pursuing Germans across an open wheat field toward a dense woodland heavily defended by the enemy, the Marines suffered as many casualties in these woods in a few days as they had previously lost in all former engagements since their founding in 1775. Here they encountered Germans heavily armed with machine guns and well entrenched in foxholes and dug-outs in the slippery muddy hillside. They also encountered gas attacks, escaping the woods only by forming a long line and placing one hand on the shoulder of the man in front so that they could march out of the battle zone.
Gas Attack Victims in line of evacuation; this is a British unit, 1918.

A nurse administers eye drops to gas attack victim.
Aerial view of chlorine gas attack, WWI.
1920 Picture of various types of gas masks used during WWI.

At left, we see one picture of that devastated forest as the Marines fire at the enemy.
Second Battle of Marne, Belleau Wood, Chateau-Thierry

The Marines fought so vigorously to gain and retain their hold of the woods that the Germans dubbed them Devil Dogs, or Teufel Hunden. To this day, the Marines honor the valor of the men who fought there by using it as their own nickname.
A US Marine Corps Recruiting Poster

The Aisne-Marne Cemetery, known to many as Belleau Wood Cemetery, lies five miles east of Chateau Thierry. The Battle of Belleau Wood and Chateau Thierry are part of the larger campaign, known as the Second Battle of the Marne.  Driving in this area, you can readily see the importance of maintaining control of the wide, easily navigable Marne River. Along the same parallel as the city of Meaux, where La Musee de la Grande Guerre is, these two battle sites are significant in that they were disputed territory between Germans and French for many years of the war until the American AEF forces took up positions along these lines and held them, then advanced them in the Spring Offensive of 1918.

In this cemetery, 15% of the men buried here are Marines who lost their lives in this Second Battle for the Marne. All others buried here are US Army and National Guard. No nurses are buried here.

Like other American cemeteries, the land is meticulously landscaped. Beneath pristine white marble crosses are the remains of 2,289 American servicemen. Another 1,060 men who are missing in action are commemorated in the chapel where their names are inscribed on the walls.

The cemetery is on the slope of a hill adjacent to Belleau Wood. Here in close-up you note the detail on the outside, including the sculpture of a nurse, 3rd from left.

   In graceful arcs, the graves mark the slope of the hill. On the half hour, the chimes in the chapel ring out. As in other American cemeteries, the songs played bring tears to your eyes. They include The Battle Hymn of the Republic, God Bless America, Saving Grace and The National Anthem.