BELLEAU, France - The long wheat fields and dense forest of Belleau Wood have deep roots in the history of the Marine Corps. Each Marine from the day they enter recruit training learns of the 5th and 6th Marine Regiment’s offensive in the heart of the French countryside in June of 1918 during World War I. However, very few Marines get the opportunity to see it in person.
For the Marines with the Wounded Warrior Regiment, the opportunity to view the historic ground of Belleau became a reality during an annual professional military education program designed by the regiment. The program is aimed to instruct Marines on the legacy that Marines have created in the past and the legacy they continue to uphold.
Belleau Wood shares even deeper ties with many Marines of the regiment because a large portion were injured serving with the very same regiments in modern day conflicts in Iraq or Afghanistan, said Col. Willard Buhl, commanding officer of Wounded Warrior Regiment.
The Battle of Belleau Wood was fought on June 1-26 of 1918; it was the first time the Marine Corps was given its trial-by-fire to prove to the world that it was more than just a simple naval infantry. On June 6th, 1918, the Marine Corps saw more losses on a single day than its past 143 years of existence.
After weeks of heavy back-and-forth battling between the Allies and Germans, often resulting in the use of bayonets 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.
“Imagine walking through this open field with wheat up to your knees,” said Buhl. “The first and second wave didn’t even make it across and the parts of the third and the fourth finally broke the tree line.”
The wheat field that Buhl described its deeply seeded in Marine Corps lore. Sgt. Maj. Dan Daly, two-time Medal of Honor Recipient, was said to inspire his Marines across this field and nearby Gunnery Sgt. Ernest Janson became the first Marine to receive the Medal of Honor in World War I.
The tour began with a visit to the Chateau-Thierry American Monument overlooking the Marne River. At the monument, Marines began to learn about the beginning of Marine Corps involvement in World War I.
“Our nation and our Marines were ready to go to war,” explained Buhl. “Not a lot about Marines has changed because Marines continue to be ready when the nation is least ready.”
After leaving Chateau-Thierry, the Marines of regiment visited towns involved in the battle such as Lucy Le Bocage and Bouresches.
The Marines then visited Belleau Wood where fierce fighting took place for nearly a month between the German Army and Marines. Many of the fighting positions are still visible to this day.
“The first day you get into the Marine Corps you hear bout Belleau Wood a lot,” said Lance Cpl. Justin Beer, a Marine with the Wounded Warrior Regiment. “However, being here and seeing it makes you feel like you are a part of it.”
After visiting the villages and Belleau Wood, they heard stories of how the Marines operated during the battle and proceeded to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery where many fallen Marines are still buried.
Many of the Marines could not help to feel a deeper understanding of their brothers in 1918 and what all Marines have in common.
“I think we share the same warrior spirit that makes us look after our buddy to the left and the right of us,” said Beer. “Being injured makes you appreciate things a lot more and feel connected with the Marines who were here.”