By lex, on Thu, June 3, 2004
Milblog readers will find plenty to keep them occupied during the drive to commemorate the Normandy invasions of 60 years ago..
But did you know the date’s other significance in military history? In naval history (keeping in mind that the USMC is a naval force)?
No? Then read on:
With the great interest in commemoration of WWII and Korea over the past 10 years, and made even more noticeable by the popular movies on the subject, as well as constant articles, TV specials and Memorial Day remembrances, it is easy to forget a date with great meaning to the Marine Corps. There are no planned celebrations of this date, or specific remembrances apart from the very dusty memories of participants, if indeed any remain, and their families. But their Corps should never forget, and indeed will never forget.-
The 6th of June is a date all Americans relate to as the day Allied forces landed at Normandy, thus opening the long awaited second front against the Axis powers in occupied Europe. Perhaps Europeans relate to this date even more than Americans do, and rightly so. However, on exactly the same date 26 years before, France was in perhaps even more desperate circumstances as the Ludendorff offensive rolled over a dispirited army and to within 40 miles of Paris. The end was near. It was then that a single American brigade arrived- a single brigade- the Fourth Marine Brigade, never having been formed into a brigade before, and turned the tide of assured defeat into incredible victory. No one had ever heard of Marines before other than ships detachments and constabulary troops.
After this battle, no one would ever forget them.
If we had a single battle honor emblazoned on our colors as the Royal Marines do, I would argue that it should be “Belleau Wood”. For it was here that our modern Marine Corps was born, and it was here that our reputation, earned in desperate battle, would be expected of all Marines in the future; by friends and allies, but most especially by our enemies.
I believe this “spirit of Belleau Wood” is present in the Marine Corps today, as it was at Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Iwo Jima, Wake Island, Pusan, Inchon, Chosin and the many nameless muddy, steaming jungles and paddies of Vietnam. It was present when Marines breached the “impregnable defenses” in the Gulf War, and it was certainly present in the minds of the record number of prisoners lined up six deep for the opportunity to surrender to Marines rather than fight them. What they lacked in fighting ability they made up for with good judgment.
In this “spirit of Belleau Wood” the below message was written 20 years ago by the undersigned, then serving for a short period as XO, 6th Marines. I believe it applies equally today as it did then, and gives Marines cause to reflect-as we should always-on our extraordinary heritage; more importantly, on the great privilege we have of calling ourselves Marines.
TO: 5TH MARINE REGIMENT
SUBJ: BELLEAU WOOD ANNIVERSARY
ON THIS MEMORABLE DATE, JUNE 6TH, WE MEMBERS OF THE SIXTH MARINES PAUSE TO SALUTE OUR COMRADES OF THE FIFTH MARINES AND THE MEMORY OF OUR PREDECESSORS IN THESE REGIMENTS ALONG WITH THOSE OF THE SIXTH MACHINE GUN BATTALION. THIS ANNIVERSARY COMMEMORATES THE DAY WHEN 63 YEARS AGO AT 5:00 PM, ELEMENTS OF THE FOURTH MARINE BRIGADE ADVANCED INTO AN UNKNOWN FRENCH HUNTING PRESERVE, AND INTO HISTORY. IT WAS THE FOURTH MARINE BRIGADE, COMPRISED OF OUR UNITS, WHICH MET THE MASSIVE LUDENDORFF OFFENSIVE NEAR CHATEAU THIERRY ONLY 40 MILES FROM PARIS-THE DEEPEST PENETRATION BY THE GERMANS IN WWI.
AS ALL ALLIED UNITS RETREATED EXPECTING THE WORST THE TONE WAS SET IN THE MARINE BRIGADE BY THE CLASSIC,STILL FAMOUS COMMENT OF A COMPANY COMMANDER…..”RETREAT HELL, WE JUST GOT HERE”. THE FIGHTING SPIRIT OF THE BRIGADE, AND INDEED OF THE SECOND DIVISION (US REGULAR) OF WHICH IT WAS A PART, WAS SUCH THAT FROM THAT MOMENT AT 1700, 6 JUNE 1918, NO FURTHER PENETRATION WAS MADE AND THE OFFENSIVE STOPPED. ADVANCING INTO THE WOODS-BELLEAU WOOD-THE MARINES OF OUR UNITS BEGAN GAINING GROUND WHICH WAS NEVER AGAIN LOST THAT TURNED THE TIDE AGAINST GERMANY, FORCING THEIR SURRENDER. IN THE LONG, SANGUINE HISTORY OF THE WAR WHICH AT THIS POINT WAS ENTERING ITS FIFTH YEAR, NO SINGLE BRIGADE HAD HAD THE MOMENTOUS INFLUENCE ON THE OUTCOME AS HAD OURS.
THE CLASSIC COURAGE OF THE “DEVIL DOGS” AND “STORM TROOPS” AS THE MARINES WERE CALLED BY THEIR ENEMY IS NOW OUR LEGACY. MANY TRADITIONS WHICH NOW ENDURE IN OUR CORPS HAD THEIR ORIGIN IN THE FOURTH MARINE BRIGADE IN FRANCE.
THE FRENCH GOVERNMENT GAVE PERMANENT RECOGNITION TO THE SUCCESS OF THE MARINE BRIGADE IN RENAMING BELLEAU WOOD “THE WOOD OF THE MARINE BRIGADE”, AND MAKING IT PERMANENTLY UNITED STATES SOIL. ADDITIONALLY, JULY 4TH WAS DECLARED AND CELEBRATED AS A NATIONAL FRENCH HOLIDAY IN HONOR OF THE AMERICAN MARINES. EQUALLY COMMENDABLE, THE FRENCH ARMY IN GIVING TWO AWARDS OF THE “CROIX DE GUERRE” TO THE BRIGADE MADE IT THE ONLY AMERICAN UNIT THROUGHOUT THE WAR TO HAVE EARNED THE RIGHT TO WEAR THE FRENCH FOURRAGERE AS A DISTINCTIVE UNIT COMMENDATION. THIS SAME FOURRAGERE IS OF COURSE WORN BY OUR MARINES TODAY AS A LEGACY OF THOSE BRAVE MEN OF THE MARINE BRIGADE.
WE OF THE SIXTH MARINES SHOW GREAT PRIDE IN THE HISTORY OF OUR REGIMENT AND ON THIS HISTORICAL DATE REMEMBER PARTICULARLY THE FIFTH MARINES AS WELL AS THE SIXTH MACHINE GUN BATTALION WHOSE MEMORY WE HONOR. THESE UNITS COMPRISING THE FOURTH MARINE BRIGADE ACHIEVED SUCCESS SO REMARKABLE THAT IN LATER YEARS THE FRENCH SUPREME COMMANDER, MARSHALL FOCH, WOULD POINT TO BELLEAU WOOD AS THE GREAT OFFENSIVE TURNING POINT FROM WHICH GERMANY WOULD NEVER RECOVER, CALLING IT “THE CRADLE OF VICTORY”. THE PRICE OF SUCH A VICTORY WAS 126 OFFICERS AND 5,057 MEN OF THE BRIGADE, OR SIXTY PERCENT OF ALL THE DIVISION’S BATTLE DEATHS.
TO THE MEMORY OF THOSE GALLANT MARINES WHO GAVE SUCH HONOR TO OUR REGIMENTS AND TO OUR CORPS, WE PLEDGE THAT TODAY’S MARINES IN THESE SAME REGIMENTS SHALL NEVER FORGET THEIR SACRIFICES. ACCORDINGLY, ON THE ANNIVERSARY OF THIS MOST HISTORIC DATE, JUNE 6TH, WE SHALL REDEDICATE OUR BATTLE COLORS AND COMMUNICATE TO YOU OUR CONTINUING PRIDE IN HAVING SERVED ALONGSIDE THE ESTEEMED FIFTH MARINES AT THAT MOST DECISIVE MOMENT WHEN A BRIGADE OF MARINES CHANGED THE COURSE OF HISTORY.
John W. Ripley
Col. J.W. Ripley USMC (ret.)
History & Museums Division
United States Marine Corps
And Semper Fi!