|Belleau Wood Today|
The Battle of Belleau Wood began on 6 June 1918 and would prove to be one of the most ferocious battles fought by American troops during the war. The 5th and 6th Marine Regiments, under the command of the U.S. Army's 2nd Division, were tasked with capturing Belleau Wood and clearing it of German soldiers. It was a battle that catapulted the Marine Corps to worldwide prominence and signaled to the world that the United States had come to Europe intending to make a serious contribution on the battlefield.
To launch their assault on the forest, the Marines first had to cross a wheat field into oncoming German machine gun fire. Trying to cross the field proved to be an incredibly dangerous undertaking and over 1,000 Marines died on the first day of battle, more than the Corps had lost in its entire 143-year history up to that point.
After three weeks of brutal tree-to-tree fighting, including multiple charges on German machine gun nests with fixed bayonets and hand-to-hand combat, and after trading possession of the forest with the Germans six times, the Marines cleared Belleau Wood of the German Army entirely on 26 June, at the cost of about 5,200 U.S, killed, wounded, or missing.
|Aisne-Marne Cemetery, Belleau Wood Above the Memorial Tower|
The Battle of Belleau Wood was a landmark event in Marine Corps history. Prior to the battle, the United States Marine Corps was a little known, unproven commodity. After three weeks of displaying the courage, determination, and win-at-all-costs attitude that has become synonymous with the Marine Corps in the years since, that all changed. . . After the battle, the French Army renamed Belleau Wood in honor of the Marines, changing the name to "Bois de la Brigade de Marine" – "The Wood of the Marine Brigade." Furthermore, the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments received the Croix de Guerre, an award for distinction and heroism in combat with the enemy, three times during the First World War--the only regiments in the American Expeditionary Force to do so. As a result, the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments are authorized to wear the French fourragère, a military award that distinguishes military units as a whole and that is shaped like a braided cord, on their dress uniforms.
Belleau Wood was also the setting for two of the most famous quotes in Marine Corps history. On 2 June 1918, as the Marines were arriving at Belleau Wood to support the French Army, they found the French retreating. A French officer ordered the Marines to do the same. Captain Lloyd Williams, of the 5th Marine Regiment, refused to do so, replying, "Retreat, Hell! We just got here." Four days later, on 6 June, Gunnery Sergeant Dan Daly is said to have rallied his men by yelling, "Come on, you sons of bitches! Do you want to live forever!" as they charged into battle.
Source: By Collin Hoeferlin, from MarineParents.com, Inc.