A Contribution from TGWS Member Col. Bill Anderson, USMC
Devil Dogs' Defining Battle Still Resonates
Modern Marines Learn the Heritage of Belleau Wood
TGWS Member Col. Bill Anderson Telling Marine Families What Transpired Around Them
From Stars and Stripes
May 27, 2001
By David Josar
BELLEAU WOOD, France -The morning sun grew hot and sounds of cows were heard across the field Saturday as the group of Marines listened to the details of the famous battle that occurred here in 1918. On these wooded hills and rolling fields, more Marines would lose their lives in any single day of battle than on any other to date. Still, many believe the battle at Belleau Wood was the turning point for the Allies during World War. For the U.S. Marine Corps, however, this was the battle that proved their mettle to themselves and the world, and in the process garnered them the nickname "Devil Dogs." Their mascot, the bulldog, came from a town fountain.
"Every Marine should come here," said Maj. James Bell, the force protection officer for U.S. Marine Forces Europe. "This is what it's all about."
Bell was one of about 60 Marines and their families from Europe who toured the battle site -about 50 miles east of Paris - on Saturday. A contingent of six Marines from the 6th Regiment at Camp Lejeune, N.C., which fought in 1918, also attended and will be part of the Memorial Day ceremony Sunday at nearby Aisne-Marne Cemetery. William Anderson, a retired Marine colonel who now works for SHAPE in Brussels, guided the daylong expedition through the hills, dirt roads, fields and ravines.
"There was no lack of heroism," said Anderson, who has been leading the annual Memorial Day weekend tour since 1996. "There was lack of communication, confusion, but the Marines didn't give up."
The battle began June 1 and ended June 26 when the Marines gained control of roughly 20 acres of woods and field. At the time, the Germans were trying to force the British and French west to the Atlantic Coast and capture France. Until that point, the Marines had been sparingly used by Allied and U.S. leaders because they were unsure what the unit could do. When the Marines entered the area they had little food, and water was scarce. They wore heavy woolen uniforms and communications between units was poor and confusing. Still, during a series of attacks and counterattacks in the wood and nearby villages, the Americans prevailed. Expert marksmen surprised German foes, hitting their targets from hundreds of yards away. Individual Marines charged German machine gun nests. When officers fell, sergeants took the lead. When sergeants fell, corporals led the way. On June 6, when the Marines took a crucial hill, they also suffered the greatest number of casuallies in Marine history when 1,087 men were either killed or wounded. By the end of the fighting 700 Americans had died.
French First Day Cover with Commemorative Stamp Honoring The Marine Corps
Staff Sgt. Thomas Devine, assigned to Marine Forces Europe in Stuttgart, brought his wife, Pamela, a former Marine, and their 3-year-old son.
"You always hear about it and you want to see it," said Devine.
He had seen the battlefields in Okinawa, Japan, which were mostly jungle, but said the fields and lack of cover of the Belleau Wood battle surprised him. "Everything is so open. There were few places to hide," he said. Marine Sgt. Andrea Austin from Stuttgart said she joined the tour because she wanted to witness firsthand the place where the Marines began to build their reputation.
"I know I'm hot and I can only imagine what they went through with their heavy uniforms, ammo and weapons," said Austin, who has been a Marine for seven years. She first heard of the fighting at Belleau Wood in boot camp when it was used to explain how the Marines got the nickname "Devil Dogs," which was coined by the German soldiers on the losing end of the battle.
"I know the forces have changed through the time, but I think if I were there now," Austin said, "I know I'd be there hooking and jabbing just like the rest."