Few places on the planet have deeper meaning for members of the U.S. Marine Corps than the vast wheat fields and dense forest of Belleau Wood in France.
The Battle of Belleau Wood began June 1, 1918, during World War I. On June 6th, the Corps suffered more losses in a single day than in its prior 143 years of existence. After weeks of fierce back-and-forth fighting between the Allies and Germans—often with the use of bayonets, knives and hand-to-hand combat—on June 26, the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines attacked Belleau Wood and cleared the forest of the opposition, ending one of the most ferocious battles the U.S. would fight during the war.
Today, each Marine who enters recruit training learns of the 5th and 6th Marine Regiment's historic offensive in the heart of the French countryside.
As the battle escalated with heavy casualties from German machine gunners, French officers advised the Marines to turn back after they were caught in the open fields. U.S. Marine Capt. Lloyd Williams is reported to have responded to the suggestion with, "Retreat? Hell, we just got here!"
But once the U.S. units advanced into the dense woods, protected Marine snipers began to pick-off German machine gun posts with some ease. General John J. "Black Jack" Pershing was said to have stated, "the deadliest weapon in the world is a Marine and his rifle." It was the Battle of Belleau in which the Marines received the nickname "Teufel Hunden," by the Germans, which roughly translates as "Devil Dogs."
On Sunday, May 25, 2014, to commemorate Memorial Day and the 96th anniversary of the historic Battle of Belleau Wood, hundreds gathered at Aisne-Marne Cemetery in the small town of Belleau, France.
"It is a moral duty, but also an immense honor, to pay homage to the memory of all those who fell for a just cause. This year, once again, the United States and France commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of Belleau Wood, which took place, here between the 1st and 26th of June, 1918," said Gen. Bertrand Ract-Madoux, Chief of Staff of the French Army.
"There is perhaps no more hollowed ground then Belleau Wood where we stand today. In the history of the United States Marine Corps the battle of Belleau Wood was an epic fight that defined the Marine Corps forever," said James F. Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps.