“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. As they formed up, the French told them it was impossible, to retreat, and got the reply from Marine Capt. Lloyd Williams replied, “Retreat, Hell, we just got here.”

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 they 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 they 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 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.

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, and won.

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Permanent Change of Station

Gunnery Sargeant R. Lee Ermey

And so, it is reported that the Gunny, R. Lee Ermey has died.

Well, Shakespeare tells us that the brave only die once, and I’d add that once is enough if you do it right. Still, he’ll be missed greatly where men gather to speak of bravery and doing the right thing, and of US Marines, (and yes, once again I repeat myself).

A singular man, the only one promoted by the Corps after he retired so that his actual rank matched his nickname. Like so many others, my introduction was Full Metal Jacket, where his character provided us with an unforgettable glimpse of how men are built.

If I’m honest, I’m inclined to think that Chesty Puller, went on down to the boss’es place and told him that the street guards needed a new First Sargeant, a Gunny so to speak.

God grant him comfort in his new billet.

If the Army and the Navy
Ever look on Heaven’s scenes,
They will find the streets are guarded
By United States Marines.

 

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