April 30, 2019 Chateau-Thierry FR

We slept in a bit as we are still fighting jet lag, but around 9am we decided to get up and get going.  We had a quick last chat with Thom and Kathy before they took off, we hope our paths cross again on our tours.

We decided to hit the Lidl on the way out of town now that we had taken stock of everything we had left behind, we had a few more food items we needed.  We also stopped at the €2 store for a USB splitter for our cigarette lighter, Ton was skeptical but so far it is working great.

Our plans for today was a place that I have wanted to visit since we started visiting France.  Belleau Wood is one of the most famous battles that the Marine Corps has participated in.  The battlefield is located near Chateau-Thierry.  During the battle the Marine Brigade which was attached to the Army 2nd Infantry Division was assigned to first stop a German advance on Paris and then regain some of the ground that had been  lost including a hill top forest/hunting preserve called Belleau Wood.  At the end of the 15 day battle the Marines had over 6000 casualties including 1060 dead.  They fought so ferociously the Germans said it was like fighting Teufel Hunden, which got translated as Devil Dogs, a nick name the Marine Corps carries until today.  The French were so impressed with the valor of the Marines that they renamed the wood, and when you enter the memorial the entrance says Belleau Wood in English, and Bois de la Brigade de Marine (The Wood of the Marine Brigade) in French, as it was renamed.

Ron standing next to a French 75 gun in Belleau Wood, this was also the main artillery piece for the American Forces in WW1.

For a place with such a violent history the wood today is a quiet park, there are some remnants of the trenches that were hastily dug during the battle, and some impact craters from artillery rounds.  Other than that it is an amazingly quiet place with beautiful vistas of the countryside including a wheat field that the Marines had to advance several hundred yards thru under machine gun fire to reach the wood.  The story is that when they were faltering in the wheat field Sergeant Major Dan Daly rallied them by shouting “Come on you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever!”

Next to the wood is the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery which has 2289 graves of Americans killed in Belleau Wood and Chateau-Thierry including 3 sets of brothers.

The graves are simple Crosses and Stars of David with the name of the man, his unit, and his home state on them.  They tell a very simple story quite movingly.  The most haunting are those that say here lies an American Soldier known only to god, for those who could not be identified.
The chapel on site on the side of Belleau Wood overlooks the grave sites.  Inside is a simple chapel with the names of over 1060 soldiers, sailors, and Marines, who are missing from the battles in this area.  

The final stop for us on the day was the Chateau-Thierry monument which is on a hill overlooking the city.  It was built after the war to commemorate the Americans and French who fought together.

It is a relatively simple monument listing the battles and the major units of the American Expeditionary Force in World War 1.  It was designed by a French-American architect Paul Cretics who served in the French Army during the war.  After the war he returned to the US and designed a war memorial for the state of Pennsylvania before designing this one.

As with every one of the American Cemeteries we have visited in France they are immaculately maintained, and the French staff obviously takes great pride in their work.  Everyone on site that we spoke to including the security guards immediately switch to English when they realize you are American.  They bend over backwards to help you with your questions.  It is really a moving experience.  Tonight we are parked in an aire in Chateau-Thierry but the monument is visible on the hill above town.

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