The Battle of Belleau Wood

by Dan Doyle

The Battle of Belleau Wood

The 100th anniversary of one of the most storied battles of the long Marine Corps history will be remembered this year: the Battle of Belleau Wood in WWI.

Late in the war, the Germans, knowing that the Americans were entering the war in numbers, undertook a desperate, last ditch effort to defeat the Allies before the Americans could bring sufficient forces into the war on the side of the Allies. But, as usual, the Marines were already there. The German offensive was launched in a place called Belleau Wood, near the Marne River in France, near Paris. It was in the spring of 1918 and the Germans would bring everything they could to the offensive. They would be countered by the 1st Bn, 5th Marines, among other allied troops.

One of the most famous Marine Corps quotes comes from a Marine 1st Sgt. by the name of Dan Daly who shouted to his Marines in their attack on the German lines, “Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?”

As battered as they were, those Marines never fell back, never gave up, and fought with such wild abandon that the Germans began calling them “TeufelHunden,” or Devil Dogs. That name has become an unofficial moniker for all Marines.

On June 26, 1918 Marine Maj., Maurice Shearer sent a message: “Woods now entirely U.S. Marine Corps.” The battle had lasted 3 weeks and by the end the Marines had suffered more casualties in that battle than in all of its history to that point.

Like the Spartans at Thermopylae, this small force of Marines had held back and stopped a superior force. Because of this, all Marines who serve in the 1st Bn, 5th Marines (and a unit of the 6th Marines) can wear the French Fourragere insignia on the left shoulder of their uniform. They are the only Marine units allowed to wear this device. These units also were awarded the French Croix de Guerre with two palms and one gilt star for their actions at Belleau Wood.