“Bois de la Brigade de Marine”

Neptune/Overlord captures our imagination because of its scale and its mission of liberation, but the 6th of June is one of those days fraught with history.

Only twenty-six years before the Normandy landing one of the most remarkable actions in American arms happened.

The British made an attack early that year that was thrown back, and the French made one that nearly broke their army, and finally, as the Germans counterattacked the 3d US Infantry division was thrown in. Here is where it won its sobriquet “Rock of the Marne”, as Paris only a few miles away was saved.

Then it was time to counterattack, This fell to the 2d US infantry, and its 4th (Marine) brigade was tasked to attack into the Belleau Wood. It is interesting that the 2d Infantry Division would come ashore 26 years later on Omaha Beach on D+1, and would be the first unit dispatched to Korea from the US in 1950. The Indianhead hasn’t missed much in the last century.

As they formed up, the French told them it was impossible, to retreat, and got the reply from Marine Capt. Lloyd Williams who replied, “Retreat, Hell, we just got here.” This is the only Army formation to have ever been commanded by a Marine officer, Major General John A. Lejeune later the Commandant, and for whom Camp Lejeune is named.

One of the NCOs leading the charge was two time Medal of Honor winner (there are only 19 in history) Sgt. Major Daniel Joseph “Dan” Daly. One in the defense of the American consulate in Peking in 1900, and one in Haiti in 1915. He would be cited for a third here but would receive the Navy Cross. This was the man who called to his people, “Come on you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?” Now carved in stone at the Marine Corps museum near Quantico, VA.

It took them three weeks to clear the woods, and 9000 casualties, more casualties than the Marines had taken in their entire history. The battle foreshadowed if anything the battles they would fight such as Peleliu in the Pacific a few years later.

This is where the Marines won one of their favorite descriptors, allegedly from the German Kaiser himself as Teufel Hunden (Devil Dogs). The German commanders rated them as a Stormtroop, they had nothing higher.

That offensive would go on for six months, ending on 11 November 1918, when the Germans surrendered.

In a failure of censorship, they were mentioned by name in the States thus leading to almost all heroic exploits being credited to them. A bit unfair but one can see how it happened. But it rather soured relations between the Army and the Marines for a generation, MacArthur always seemed to suffer from it, as did a young Artillery captain in the 2d Infantry Division himself, named Harry Truman. Eventually, they got over it, mostly.

On the other hand, General Pershing said this, “The deadliest weapon in the world is a United States Marine and his rifle.”

Belleau Wood no longer exists, it is the “Bois de la Brigade de Marine”, the Wood of the Marine Brigade.

The 5th and 6th Regiments won the French Croix de Guerre in the fight. They would win it twice more before the end of the war. And so the current members of the units and its organizational parts (including Marines and by special order their naval medical personnel) are authorized to wear the fourragère.

If you were to visit Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, you would find that it is laid out in a T shape, with a lane leading to the chapel. The chapel is built on the 4th Brigades trenches.

Not something we should be forgetting, in fact, a centenary we should be celebrating, as American arms took on the best in the world, for nearly the first time, and won.

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13 Responses to “Bois de la Brigade de Marine”

  1. Nicholas says:

    There are few things that strike fear into the heart of the enemy like the report, “The Marines are here!”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. the unit says:

    I read some place that if what you tell is a lie, but you believe it’s true that it isn’t really a lie. 🙂
    Well so anyway, maybe sometimes you gotta.
    “Somehow I got the idea that telling an even bigger whopper was the way to go. So I told the next recruiter that I was 21 and darned if he didn’t sign me up on the spot!”
    https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Buckles
    I remember his passing, and darn it at my age 2011 seems like yesterday. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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