May 28, 2012

Memorial Day: Belleau Wood

The Aisne-Marne American Cemetery at Belleau Wood has a longstanding Memorial Day tradition. Thousands gather at this historic spot each year to pay tribute to the French and American military who have served in the name of freedom and to honor those who have been wounded or lost in battle (in the great wars ... and the not so great).

When looking at the rolling green hills, with a soundtrack of hundreds of serenading birds, it's hard to imagine the ferocious fighting that took place in June of 1918 (WWI) as the Germans advanced on this region about 90 km northeast of Paris near the Marne River.

The battle of Belleau Wood is famous for the bravery of the fighting forces and for the ultimate result, the retreat of the Germans. As evidenced in the American and German cemeteries, this turning point in the war came at a high price.

The woods were attacked six times by the U.S. infantry and Marines (later called devil dogs) before the Germans retreated, with heavy casualties on both sides. As one Marine is famous for saying, "Retreat, hell, we just got here." The Marines persisted and held the allied line.

The American cemetery has 2,289 graves. A nearby German cemetery has 8,630 graves. When the cemetery Belleau Wood battle monument was dedicated, these words were said:

"Now and then, a veteran ... will come here to live again the brave days of that distant June. Here will be raised the altar of patriotism; here will be renewed the vows of sacrifice and consecration to country."

The Memorial Day ceremonies are full of pomp and circumstance and silent contemplation. From the initial flyover to the laying of wreaths to the performances of the Marine Silent Drill Team and Marine Drum and Bugle Corps (this year doing a wacky rendition of "Rocky Top" with drums and xylophone and a very moving Battle Hymn of the Republic) to the moment of silence for the fallen, it is an important reminder of the devastation of war and the value of freedom.

There are ceremonies all over France for Memorial Day and for D-Day tributes. On June 6, a ceremony at Colleville-sur-Mer takes place at 10:30 am to honor the WWII veterans of the Normandy Beach invasions, as well as others who have served.

Photographs and post by Meredith Mullins as a tribute to all who serve.