Genoa Marine tours site of legendary WWI battle
At the beginning of June 1918, the Germans attacked across the Marne River in an effort to divide Allied forces and win the First World War.
After defeating Russia, more than 40 German divisions were moved to the Western Front, where the Wermacht hoped to punch a line through the newly arrived Americans.
Waiting for them was the U.S. Marine Corps, which held the line in the Battle of the Belleau Wood.
Genoa resident Steve McMorris and his friend John Moore Jr. made the pilgrimage to the site in June, where they toured the Belleau Wood and the cemeteries there.
“Everybody was pretty much worn out,” McMorris said of the battle that occurred a century ago. “That was the Germans’ last gasp effort to break through, and they were breaking through.”
Members of the 4th Marine Brigade were assigned to the U.S. 2nd Division and were in the way when the Germans fought through the French lines and attacked Marines, who had dug in to fight on June 3. The Marines’ rifle fire forced the Germans to retreat and continued to fight back repeated German assaults.
The Marines attacked German positions in the woods a half-dozen times before the were successful at driving them off.
After the battle, the French renamed the wood “Bois de la Brigade de Marine” in honor of the U.S. troops.
“Most people just don’t realize,” McMorris said. “There were 3 million American men and women in uniform in Europe at that time.”
McMorris said Belleau Wood is not a high hill about half the size of the hill in Central Park.
He said the cemetery sits in an arc right around the base of the hill
“The battle lasted from June 6 to June 26 and casualties were horrendous,” he said. “On the 26th, they drove the Germans off the hill.”
McMorris said their tour guide was able to take them to the gravesite of the two Nevada Marines who were killed in the battle.
“When you see it, it’s beautiful,” he said.
The Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial is maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission, which is an agency of the U.S. government.
The agency operates and maintains 25 American cemeteries and 27 memorials in 16 countries.
The Aisne-Marne site is granted in perpetuity as a permanent burial ground by France to the United States.
McMorris and Moore met in line to get their haircuts in Marine Boot Camp in 1962. Both were Californians and part of the largest officer candidate school class since Korea up to that date.