With Veteran’s Day fast approaching I have always felt that something should be said for those that came before us. In our modern world we often get bogged down with the politics of war and fail to remember the sacrifice, dedication, and patriotism expressed by those who go to war on our behalf. The right and wrong of a war can be argued. But the shear bravery, audacity, creativity, and selflessness of those who fight reflects honor on our country, and sends a message to our foes. Don’t Tread on us.
I was not a Marine. I have three uncles who were, or I should say are, Marines. They say once a Marine, always a Marine. My Uncle Ed, and Uncle C.L served during World War II in the pacific. My Uncle Ernest served in Korea and Vietnam. The Marines have a rich and long history of serving the people of our country. This story is about one battle fought long ago, in a small, mile square forest in France.
The U.S. 2nd and 3rd Divisions had been dispatched at the request of the French, by General John “Black Jack” Pershing to defend the area around the city of Chateau-Thierry. The divisions fell under command of the French XXI Corps. This meant that although the American divisions were part of the American Expeditionary Force, they would receive and follow the orders of the French.
The need for these units was based on a thrust by the German Army Group Crown Prince toward Paris. The German Army Group had dispatched the 237th Division, 10thDivision and later reinforcements from the 197th, 87th, and 28th Divisions to take and occupy the Chateau-Thierry area.
On the first of June 1918, Marine Captain Lloyd Williams began to dig in along with the rest of second division near the town of Lucy-le-Bocage. When advised to withdraw he said, “Retreat Hell, we just got here!” The whole move had been a mess, given the emergency of moving a whole division to counter the German thrust. However, the Marines quickly turned disorder into order. Soon they were demonstrating to the Germans the damage American marksmanship can provide.
On the 2nd and 3rd of June the German 237th Division Occupied Belleau Wood.
On the 4th the Germans launch an attack at a place called Les Mares Farm. The 2ndBattalion, 5th Marines defend the farm. The Germans ran head long into well-prepared positions. Marine machinegun, and artillery tear into the assault and turn it back. This is the closest the Germans will ever get to Paris, just 50 miles away.
On the 5th the French commander orders the 2nd Division to recapture Belleau Wood. The 4th Marine Brigade is tasked to recapture the wood. According to the French the Germans only occupy a small corner of the wood.
On the 6th of June the Marines launch their attacks. The first attack comes at 0500 to capture hill 142. With this hill the Marines can support the main attack on the wood. Despite some tense moments this attack is successful.
At 1700 hours the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments frontally assault the wood. To get there they must cross a wheat field. The wheat field is well covered by German machineguns. Gunnery Sgt Dan Daly yells, “come on you son of a bitches, you want to live forever?” The attack is a near disaster.
The 3rd Battalion 5th Marines are decimated and the 3rd Battalion 6th Marines barely make it into the woods. In addition to the attack on the wood, the 4th Brigade was ordered to take a railroad station just outside of the town of Bouresches. The station is heavily defended and the attack fails. The action on this day results in the most casualties suffered by the Marines in a single day, 1087 men.
From the 7th to the 15th of June the Marines engage in the back and forth of trench warfare. They endure bombardment and gas attacks.
On The 16th of June the 3rd Divisions Army units relive the Marines.
On the 22nd of June the Marines reenter the battle relieving the Army units. The French continue to order the woods be taken.
On the 23rd of June the Marines launch an assault that makes very little headway, but results in terrible casualties. Two hundred ambulances are needed to remove the wounded.
On the 25th of June the French finally bring in enough guns to reduce the woods to firewood. After a 14-hour bombardment the Marines capture the wood.
On the 26th of June Major Maurice Shearer sends the signal “Woods now entirely-U.S. Marine Corps.”
Legend has it that a German dispatch to headquarters described the newly arrived American forces as fighting like “Tuefel Hunden” or “Hounds from Hell.” This is the origin of the term “Devil Dogs”, a common term of endearment and honor for the Marines.
The result of the action at Belleau Wood demonstrated to the Germans that the Americans were here to fight. The overall action resulted in the German advance being stopped.
Total casualties 9,777
Medal of Honor awards: Gunnery Sgt E.A. Janson, Lt. JG. Weedon Osborne (a street in Bouresches is named for him), Lt. Orlando Perry, and Gunnery Sgt. F. Stockham.
Excerpt of a Citation from the French Government.
“During these operations [of early June], thanks to the brilliant courage, vigour, dash, and tenacity of its men, who refused to be disheartened by fatigue or losses; thanks to the activity and energy of the officers, and thanks to the personal action of Brig. Gen. Harbord, the efforts of the brigade were crowned with success, realizing after twelve days of incessant struggle an important advance over the most difficult of terrain and the capture of two support points of the highest importance, Bouresches village and the fortified wood of Belleau.”
In French, Belleau Wood is Bois de Belleau. At the end of the battle the French renamed it to “Bois de la Brigade de Marine.”
Salute to the “Devil Dogs.”