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Battle of Belleau Wood
The Battle of Belleau Wood was a battle of the first World War. It occurred near the Marne River in France between June 1st and June 26th 1918. The battle was fought between the U.S. Second (under the command of James Harbord ) and Third Divisions and a hodgepodge of German units including elements from the 237th, 10th, 197th, 87th, and 28th Divisions.
In a battle noteworthy because of both its extremely bloody nature and its close proximity to the French capital of Paris, the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) launched a counter-attack designed to stop the German advance. The Second Division was tasked with taking the woods, and the 4th Brigade with its 5th and 6th Marine Regiments was sent forward. In order to enter and take the woods, it was necessary to advance across an open field of wheat that was continuously swept with murderous German machine gun and artillery fire. After Marines were repeatedly urged to turn back by retreating French forces, Marine Captain Lloyd Williams of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines uttered the now-famous retort "Retreat, hell. We just got here."
On the first day alone (June 6), the casualties were the highest in Marine Corps history (and remained so until the capture of Tarawa in November 1943). Overall, the woods were taken by the Marines (and the US Army 3rd Brigade ) a total of six times before they could successfully expel the Germans. They fought off more than four divisions of Germans, oftentimes reduced to using only their bayonets or fists in hand-to-hand combat. In order to rally his platoon of pinned-down Marines, Gunnery Sergeant Dan Daly encouraged them with what would become another famous phrase "Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?"
After the battle
In the end, U.S. Forces suffered a total of 9,777 casualties, 1,811 of them being fatal. There is no clear information on the total number of Germans killed, although 1,600 troops were taken prisoner. Combined with the actions at Chateau Thierry, the Battle of Belleau Wood brought an end to the last major German offensive of World War I.
After the battle, the French renamed the wood "Bois de la Brigade de Marine" ("Wood of the Marine Brigade") in honor of the Marines' tenacity. The French government also later awarded the 4th Brigade the Croix de Guerre. Belleau Wood is also where the Marines got their German nickname of "Teufelhunde" or "Devil Dogs" for the ferocity with which they attacked the German lines. An official German report classified the Marines as "vigorous, self-confident, and remarkable marksmen..."
General Pershing, Commander of the AEF said, "The Battle of Belleau Wood was for the U.S. the biggest battle since Appomattox and the most considerable engagement American troops had ever had with a foreign enemy."
In July 1923 an American battle monument was built in Belleau Wood. Army General James. G. Harbord, the commander of the Marines during the battle, was made an honorary Marine. In his address, he summed up the future of the site:
"Now and then, a veteran ... will come here to live again the brave days of that distant June," Harbord said. "Here will be raised the altars of patriotism; here will be renewed the vows of sacrifice and consecration to country. Hither will come our countrymen in hours of depression, and even of failure, and take new courage from this shrine of great deeds."
Today, at the American cemetery nearby, white crosses and Stars of David mark 2,289 graves, 250 for unknown service members, and the names of 1,060 missing men adorn the wall of a memorial chapel. Visitors also stop at the nearby German cemetery where 8,625 men are buried; 4,321 of them - 3,847 unknown - rest in a common grave.
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