Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

100 Years Ago: U.S. Assault on Belleau Wood Opens

Belleau Wood Today

The Battle

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 Legacy

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, Inc.


  1. I was honored to be at the Aisne-Marne AMBC cemetery for the 100th over this past Memorial Day weekend. As expected, it was an outstanding event with Marines from the 6th Regiment, 2nd Division band, Commandant, Asst Commandant, Command Sergeant Major and Chaplain of the Marine Corps. French 152nd Regiment honor guard and, for the first time that I am aware of, an honor guard from the German Army. Of course, it was preceded by the silent ceremony at the "Iron Mike" memorial and followed up by the town reception at the chateau. Great camaraderie and remembrance of these pivotal events.

  2. I also was privelidged to attend with my wife, sister and Brother in law 4 years ago. What a magnificent setting and the appreciation from the French for what occurred there is huge. It is a special place!

  3. A more nuanced version of the battle may be read
    Nothing against the Marines at Belleau Wood but there were some Army troops of the 2nd Div that fought just as bravely and some would say smarter than the Marines.

  4. With my wife,brother and his girl friend we visited this site on a dreary, cool slightly foggy evening. As we were there taps was played. What a heart throbbing experience. Also the ruined church at the same site. Spelling probably wrong, but the ruins of Mt. faulcon were also a period of silence. A must visit.

  5. Many Marines of the 6th Machine Gun Battalion lost their live in that battle, too. It is very sad they seem to get forgotten when discussing the 4th Marine Brigade.

    the son of one of those Marines of the 6th MGBn.

  6. Some readers may be interested in what the public was reading about the battle at Belleau Wood. Here is an excerpt of the story in the Paris Herald on June 8, 1918, written by Don Martin. (It is from the June 7 posting on the daily centennial Don Martin blog at
    “...the American Marines, fighting side by side with two companies of infantry almost as well known in the United States as are the Marines, yesterday executed a brilliant operation against the Germans, driving them back from two to five kilometres....The Marines led the charge, and on their flanks were the infantry companies. It was by long odds the most important scrimmage the Americans have yet been in...North of the Bois de Belleau the Americans met one of the severest trials of their experience. Twenty German machine-guns were mounted on a plateau and, as the Americans approached, a deluge of lead was turned loose upon them. Pausing a moment in their dash, the Americans gained cover as well as they could and sent word back to have the artillery blow away the surface of the plateau. A few moments later a terrific rain of artillery fire from the American-manned French guns fell upon the plateau and was followed by a swift dash of the American boys. The plateau was piled high with dead Germans and wrecked machine-guns. Not a living soul was to be found. Of the twenty machine-guns which had sprayed the Americans with such a withering and deadly fire not one was worth retaining. During the nineteen hours continuous fighting...there were scores of instances of personal valor among the American boys. Some day there will no doubt be medals of honor for many whose names are but part of the record of the brilliant yet, in a way, tragic day.”