The Battle of Belleau Wood in World War I was a turning point for the United States.

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BERROW, France — In the spring of 1918, German troops were making their final advance toward Paris. All that stood in their way was a detachment of Allied forces, including untested American troops near the Marne River in northern France.

Among them was U.S. Army Lieutenant Gordon Kemmerling, a precocious and athletic Harvard graduate who jumped at the chance to help the United States break out of its isolationist shell and enter the war. Ta.

On June 6, 1918, U.S. forces raided and attacked fields near Bellow Woods. German troops fired artillery and machine guns from heavily forested hills. Without adequate artillery cover, the American forces were easily defeated at first.

In the chaos, 26-year-old Ken Marling rushed to help his comrades, but was nearly torn in half by shrapnel and bullets.

Thanks to the courage of Kenmarling and others, the Americans were able to drive the Germans out of Belleau Forest by the end of the month. This battle was a defining moment in World War I, not only halting the German advance on the Western Front, but also demonstrating for all to see the military mettle of the United States.

The victory forged a bond between the Allies, and that friendship became the basis of world diplomacy for most of the past century.

As the United States marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Belleau Wood and marks the Memorial Day holiday, that partnership is being celebrated amid some tension across the Atlantic.

no setbacks

Germany acknowledged that the arrival of American troops on the Western Front would be a burden, but Soviet Russia’s peace with the Bolsheviks meant that German forces could mount a further onslaught against France.

This was a unique opportunity for the German army, and when it came, they were able to march from Paris within a week. After four years of fighting, victory seemed possible.

Historian David S. Jones, a retired U.S. Army colonel, said the American military was “still considered an inexperienced organization, and there was uncertainty among French and British troops about how well they would perform.” “It was,” he said.

The original plan was to give more American troops more time to train before being sent into combat, but Germany had other ideas.

In desperation, the French army asked American General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing to immediately deploy some troops to block the gap near the Marne River northeast of Paris. American soldiers and Marines were quickly driven out by Bellow.

The combination of inexperience and gung-ho enthusiasm became the stuff of legend. Owen Gardner Finnegan, a Marine who served in Afghanistan and visited Belleau Wood Cemetery, said the battle was one of the first lessons for U.S. Marines.

Because of its ferocity, the U.S. military “stopped a fierce battle by the world’s most advanced military at the time,” Finnegan said.

Marine Corps lore has it that when one officer was told there was going to be a general retreat, he said, “Retreat? Hell, we just got here!”

The American military focused on vigor, youth, and resilience against an experienced but battle-weary German army that was entering its fifth year.

French historian Jean-Michel Stegg said that American troops “faced heavy enemy fire, and instead of ducking down and retreating, they charged.”

At first it was a question of survival. But they steadily established themselves in such hostile terrain that any tree could hide the enemy. They stood their ground in the human-versus-human battle.

Far from advancing on Paris, the German army was quickly outnumbered.

Much more was at stake than just a patch of land along the 350-mile front.

“It became something different. It became a test of will,” Steg said.

With American support, Allied forces pushed back the Germans.

“The turning point was when the Germans realized that the American military was real and that with new soldiers arriving every month it was not only getting bigger, but getting better,” Stegg said. Ta.

By the end of 1918, more than 2 million Americans had joined the front lines.

Bellow Wood “was definitely a key point on America’s path to becoming a world power,” Jones said.

Other successes by American, French, and Commonwealth forces led to an armistice on November 11, 1918.

The United States returns to Europe to fight and defeat Germany in World War II. It extended its reach to the world to embody what some have called the “American Century.”

symbolic tree

A century after the battle, the shell holes are covered with fir and ivy, and Berreau Forest has enough oak saplings to escape the appetites of roaming deer.

One young tree was dug up for a special purpose. During a state visit in April, French President Emmanuel Macron brought the tree to the White House and held a planting ceremony with President Donald Trump.

President Macron said the tree could take root “as a symbol of the sacrifices and common struggle led by France and the United States together.”

After the ceremony, the tree will be exhumed, quarantined, and returned to the site like other plants and animals brought into U.S. territory.

Although Macron and Trump celebrated their bond, tensions have arisen between the United States and Europe over issues such as climate change, the Iran nuclear deal and trade with the European Union.

“Some may even think, ‘Who needs enemies when you have friends like that?’” EU Council President Donald Tusk said earlier this month, referring to the Trump administration. ”

It wasn’t the feeling that Owen Gardner Finnegan, a Marine visiting Belleau Woods, wanted to dwell on as he stood among the white marble gravestones of fallen Americans on a gray spring day.

“We must not forget all this: the green fields of France, stained with the blood of millions,” Finnegan said.

In a letter home, Gordon Kemmerling described France as “a dream country where I would love to play in peacetime”.

He never had that chance. He was buried at the Anse Marne American Military Cemetery in Belleau, one of 2,289 Americans buried there.

“He was a leader of men, and he needed to step forward to lead,” said Shane Williams, cemetery director.



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