California Couple Visit France Investigating WW1 & Make a Connection for Two Cities
[Part One of a Two Part Article]
California WW1 Centennial Task Force Co-Director and Fiancée Take Enviable Trip to the WW1 Monuments of France and Find Treasures and Unexpected Surprises.
Many Americans are choosing to commemorate the centennial of World War One by taking a trip to the battlefields of France over the course of the centennial. This year, one of those was one of our own Co-Directors of the California WW1 Centennial Task Force, Courtland Jindra who traveled with his fiancée, Melissa to Northeastern France to do just that. Courtland is also the organizer for the Victory Memorial Grove restoration project in Los Angeles, one of the 100 Cities/100 Memorials selected by the US WW1 Centennial Commission and the Pritzker Museum for repair and renovation.
Another of our Co-Directors, Bill Betten, interviews Courtland, and then (with permission) digs into Melissa’s journal of their trip in this report.
Bill: “Melissa's chronicle of your trip is stupendous, but before we get to her entries I’d like to open with a few questions to you Courtland that I think people would like to know your answers to if you don’t mind.
Courtland: Go right ahead.
Bill: Those of us who have never gone to France can only imagine what emotions it must generate to physically be where it all happened. What was it like to stand where 100 years ago Doughboys fought and made the ultimate sacrifice?
Courtland: It was amazing and humbling. The real shock when I got back to the states was how forgotten the First World War is here. In France it is a living thing. It's everywhere, and when you speak to someone about it, it's like it was ten or twenty years ago....not a century.
When Vincent Bervas, the local Château-Thierry historian, was showing us the area around the Ourcq River where the 42nd Division displaced the Germans at Croix Rouge Farm, and then held against vicious counterattacks - it was if he was seeing the battle lay out before him in real time. He became visibly moved when he told the story of the Alabama and Iowa regiments storming the fields into withering fire, with only a single clip of ammunition - the men were running and dropping many of their supplies that were weighing them down. Artillery and machine gun emplacements of the Germans devastated the Americans. When the Americans finally engaged the Germans at close range they mostly just had bayonets and rifle butts to use as weapons, having fired most of their ammunition.
“It was impossible,” Vincent said nearly tearing up. “They do it,” as he shook his head, “Impossible.”
The French, at least - in wherever the war blazed through like a fire destroying everything - have not forgotten our contribution to their cause, even if we have. We went through at least five towns where we noticed American flags were displayed next to the French Tri-Color. Of all the things I have seen that have moved me, and brought the history alive, I think Vincent's description of the fight over Croix Rouge Farm will stay with me the most. And we saw A LOT that moved me.
Bill: I have heard it said, “Ah, if you’ve visited one war cemetery, you’ve visited them all.” How would you respond to that?
Courtland: I don't believe that is the case. All the cemeteries were unique and all beautiful. If I had to pick a favorite I'd say Saint-Mihiel was the most beautiful. I would have loved to have spent longer at just about all of them, and think it would be an amazing experience to attend a Memorial Day or November 11th ceremony at one some year.
Bill: I understand that your trip was two-fold. Beside personal commemoration and sightseeing, there was an added task to your centennial visit that recalled a French-American connection, and an interesting fact about the battle that raged around Château-Thierry during WW1?
Courtland: Yes, it was a Beverly Hills/Château-Thierry connection. Long story short, there was a statue in Château-Thierry of Hunter and Hounds that survived the war. Afterward, a real estate magnate, Mr. Longyear, from Beverly Hills bought it and shipped it home. Correspondence was exchanged, and apparently Mr Longyear sent them film from its dedication in Beverly Hills. The film is thought to have been lost in WWII. I tried like hell to see if Beverly Hills might have had a second copy somewhere to no avail.
Anyway, I got Beverly Hills to issue a proclamation asking for both communities to rediscover their mutual connection from WWI and to learn more about the war in general.
Bill: Was there any place you would have also gone and visited with one or two more days?
Courtland: I'd like to have gone to Cantigny for one. It would have been nice to go into Belgium and see the areas where we fought there as well. However, I think even spending more days in the Meuse-Argonne battlefield would be worth it. The area is massive...you don't realize how big it is until you get there. From Blanc Mont (which was in the French sector, but the 2nd and 36th Divisions fought there) to the edge of the Meuse is a massive area. And we didn't go north to Sedan which was over 30 miles away.
I'd have liked to go west of Paris too. Tours has a fountain monument to the Services of Supply that I'd like to see. There's also a Naval Monument at Brest that looks impressive. Or even Brookwood Cemetery in Britain would be nice to see. I felt like we saw a lot, but there's so much more we could see. Monuments are everywhere and you can't stop to look at them all. For that matter other vestiges of war are everywhere as well. Pillboxes and other random military installations from a century ago are randomly along the side of the road as they are so well built, it was too much hassle to remove them.
Bill: Now for a tough question: For those of us who have never been, would you prioritize these WW1 travel locations, or at least place them in order to visit chronologically? The National World War I Museum and Memorial of the United States in Kansas City, Missouri, Washington DC, The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and a trip through France like you took (and feel free to include any that you think I have overlooked.)
Courtland: Gosh, this is tough. For one, I have not been to the WWI Museum...maybe soon. I suspect that will be the top place to visit in the States. Going overseas was amazing and would be the top overall spot. There are various WWI sites in Washington DC and I look forward to the memorial being finished in Pershing Park. I hope to be there for the dedication in 2021.
The Coliseum is worth attending when they have a ceremony there. You can't ask for a better venue for Memorial Day and it has been my honor to help them bring back their ceremonies the last four years. It's really a “living” memorial though, so not exactly geared towards only remembrance. They are working to include more of their history. When their renovations are done they are planning a small museum where they plan to include a WWI section along with all of the memorabilia about the history of the stadium itself. I look forward to that!
There are other WWI sites around too, but I could go on and on.
Courtland’s fiancée, Melissa does a fantastic job here in documenting their trip. Since Day One was spent traveling, we will move forward to:
October 6th, 2018
After much consulting of the train/bus routes online, and realizing some closures might affect what we wanted to do, Courtland suggested we ask the hotel staff the best way to get up to the Eiffel Tower. The lady at the front desk gave us good directions, so we set off.
We took one bus and one metro train. It was a short walk to the Eiffel Tower across the Seine River, passing numerous street vendors selling trinkets like mini Eiffel Towers and such, and a lot of other tourists. Courtland observed that you can tell the pigeons there are Paris pigeons because they fly like the people drive. We watched them soar boldly between people's legs and past faces to get where they wanted to go.
The structure is really amazing and beautiful, and has been there since 1889. We enjoyed the views seeing things like Notre Dame and the Arc de Triomphe from high above the city and taking a lot of pictures. Once we were back down, we had a brief sit by a pond filled with ducks and coy fish and then headed for the Arc de Triomphe.
Along the way, we stopped at a food truck and got chicken, lettuce and tomato sandwiches on little French baguettes and soft serve ice cream for dinner.
It was about a half hour walk between the Eiffel Tower and the Arc. Once we figured out that there was an underground tunnel leading through the suicidal traffic circle around the Arc, we made our way to it. The outside is free to enjoy, and if one wants they can pay to take a lift to the top, but we'd had enough of that for a day so we stuck to the bottom. Plus, at 6:30pm Courtland knew they were doing a daily ceremony honoring the tomb of the unknown WWI soldier there, which has been done daily since Nov 11th 1923, so we hung around.
The event began with a parade, and we had good spots to watch as a large band, dignitaries, veterans groups, firefighters, a group of search and rescue dog handlers (complete with their very large dogs – think children's cartoons with the dogs in the snowy mountains with little barrels of whisky around their necks who save lost, frozen people), and a group of tourists that they couldn't stop from entering the parade. They marched up to the area under the Arc and held their ceremony. It wasn't well heard by the audience, but there were songs and speeches and wreath laying. They rekindled the eternal flame there and eventually the ceremony ended, but not before Courtland was reminded of a quote from James Harbord:
The band blared out "The Star-Spangled Banner" and we stood to attention for several days it seemed to me while they played it over and over. Even the General, who stands like a statue, growled over the number of times they played it. Then we had the "Marsellaise" several times and then, our hands having broken off at the wrist, we stood up to the gangway while a dozen fuzzy little Frenchmen came up. The last was a big man with a sweeping mustache and the two stars on his sleeve which mark the French brigadier. His right hand was gone below the elbow; his chin and forehead were scarred. My theory for the lost arm was that he had lost it by standing with it up to his cap while a French band played "The Star-Spangled Banner" followed by the "Marseillaise."
We stuck around for a little while to see if they would light up the Arc as they do every night, but by 7:35 it hadn't been lit and we saw that the Eiffel had already been lit so we made our way back to the Eiffel Tower. The lights at the Arc came on around 7:45pm, and we saw them from a distance. At the Eiffel, we took more pictures and marveled at it lit up at night. Periodically, they make it "sparkle" with hundreds of additional bright lights going on and off. Every way, it's beautiful.
We walked across the street to the center of the traffic circle near our train stop and got a closer look at a giant statue of Foch (Allied Forces head General in WWI) on a horse. He overlooks the Eiffel Tower to the east, and it is as if he still holds watch over the Tower and the Germans to the east.
Day Three (October 7th): more general exploration in Paris and Versailles
Monday, October 8th
After a 30-minute run in the morning, and breakfast at the hotel, we set off for the Suresnes American Cemetery and Memorial. The Suresnes American Cemetery was the first American cemetery in France, established in 1917 for those that died of illness or injury at hospitals in Paris. There are 1,565 headstones here, most of which are crosses but there are also 22 Stars of David. There are an additional 974 names on the tablets of the missing.
A bus, a tram, and a walk up the hill got us there. Immediately one is greeted by a great wrought iron gate elaborately adorned with gold accents, behind which lies the immaculate cemetery with its neat rows of white crosses and the impressive monumental building behind it, atop a hill overlooking Paris. From the top, we could see the Eiffel Tower along the sky line. First, we went to an adjacent reception building, which has the offices of Mr. Keith Stadler and Mr. Matthew Brown, who run the place (and speak English!), a guest register book, water, a bathroom and couches for relaxing. We met them and Mr. Brown took us on a walk across the cemetery. Two flagstaffs fly in front of the memorial building, American to the left and French to the right, each with golden eagles perched atop. He showed us the grave sites of the Cromwell sisters, who were nurses from affluent families that answered the call to protect liberty during the War. Due to the horrors they had to witness, they suffered undiagnosed PTSD and committed suicide by jumping off the ship carrying them back to the United States in January 1919. He also showed us the grave site of Inez Crittenden, who died on Nov 11, 1918 from the Spanish flu. She was the Chief Operator of the Paris-based "hello girl" telephone operators. Mr. Brown later left us to explore the cemetery on our own. We walked up to the Memorial itself, which is a large building with a chapel in the center, and World War I wing to the left and World War II wing to the right. We took in the magnitude of the site, and spotted Charles P. Stauffer's name of the wall of sailors lost at sea. He was from California and his plaque is the sole surviving tree plaque at Victory Memorial Grove. While there, at 12 noon, we were delighted to hear several songs that seemed to ring out from a carillon inside the memorial building. It sounded so good that we actually walked back up to the building and were looking for them. We didn't see any bell towers, though, and later learned from Mr. Stadler that the bells were recorded and played at many of the cemeteries operated by the American Battle Monuments Commission, thanks to donations by the AmVets organization. It was a beautiful thought that the souls of the fallen could rest in such a gorgeous place and listen to that music every day.
After we took in the place and said our goodbyes, we took another bus to the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial Cemetery. This one is a sort of park within a park. We walked a wooded trail for about ten minutes before reaching a vast grassy field, at the end of which is the imposing monument. To say that it is massive is an understatement – it's 75 feet tall. The Memorial commemorates the 68 American pilots of the Lafayette Escadrille and Flying Corps who died in WWI. The Lafayette Escadrille was the all-American squadron of 38 pilots who served in the French Air Service, and the Lafayette Flying Corps included over 200 other Americans who flew under French command. Many of these pilots were later in the Army Air Service after WWI, which was the forerunner of the U.S. Air Force. 49 Americans are buried underneath the memorial in a crypt, along with two of their French commanders.
We walked the semi-circular structure and marveled at its intricate inscriptions and reliefs etched in the walls and ceilings, and the mosaics on the floors. There is a reflecting pool in front with a very French fountain (whose water flows out much like the fleur-de-lis) in the center, and lily pad circles (which were blooming) to the sides. After a snack, we walked to the site of a visitor center that is being constructed, which is down a pathway bordered by two massive trees. Mr. Stadler told us to pay special attention to the tree to the right, and its sister tree covered in ivy to the left, as the trees are said to have been planted by Marie Antoinette.
It was two buses back to the hotel for a nap. We took a walk around the neighborhood here after dinner and returned to our room for our last night in Paris before moving on to Chateau-Thierry tomorrow.
Tuesday, October 9th 2018
We left our Paris hotel after breakfast, and filled the tank with gas. Once we were filled up we were off for the Somme American Cemetery.
We took about an hour before we left to carefully look at our route and write down directions, but we were determined to go to the Somme before going to Chateau Thierry. The good directions, and increasing familiarity with how the roads and signage here works, led us to Bony, France without problems. Very easy. It took us about three hours to get from Paris to Bony, and I was driving under the speed limit most of the way. Once out of Paris, we marveled at hours of beautiful rural countryside and the changing leaves of fall. We passed cute little town after cute little town on hillsides and limitless acres of farmland. After many miles and many roundabouts, and not really getting lost despite us going further and further into the middle of nowhere, we arrived at the Somme American Cemetery. It is the final resting place of 1,838 Americans, and probably the least visited American battle cemetery in France, likely because of how far off the beaten path it is!
We were greeted by a very nice security guard who directed us to our parking spot, the visitor center, and the cemetery. The visitor center had a reception area with couches and a guest registry. This one had a nice book with map listing the names and plot numbers of those buried there. None of the administrators were there, so we set off for the grave sites. We walked around and took in the large flag pole at the center of the cemetery that has four bronze doughboy helmets circling it. This cemetery, like others, is immaculately well-kempt. We then walked to the Memorial Chapel. Inside were inscriptions, reliefs, and two pretty stained glass windows. There were flags hung on the upper walls of branches of the military and the American flags. Names of the missing are inscribed within the walls. We found the three medal of honor recipients that are buried at the cemetery, as well as Egbert Beach, the only Victory Memorial tablet name that was buried at the Somme. There was also a Jindra from Illinois! We ate a couple of pilfered croissants from our buffet breakfast in Paris for a much-needed snack in the shade of the chapel. On the hour, bells rang in the distance somewhere, but no music like at the Suresnes cemetery, sadly.
Upon our return to the Visitor Center, we met the superintendent, Craig Rahanian, and his wife, who also works there. Courtland spoke to them for a while talking shop and then sadly, we took our leave of the beautiful place.
About five minutes away is the site of the Bellicourt Monument. It commemorates American units that fought with the British armies in France. It is an imposing monument with a large parking area, where we were the only visitors. We explored all sides of the monument and, as the day was waning, we got on our way to Chateau-Thierry.
Again we worked our way south through the rural landscape and small towns, only twice or so passing through bigger towns such as St. Quentin. The views and quaint villages were really beautiful. Again, directions were excellent and we made it all the way to our hotel in Chateau-Thierry without getting lost.
Lots to do tomorrow!
Wednesday, October 10th, 2018
Woke and had breakfast at the chateau. Took a little walk along the river. Our chateau has a few other houses to the sides, and then just fields of grapes and other crops. The air walking by the grape fields is sweet. There is a boat docked behind the chateau that looks like it's seen better days!
After getting ready to go, we set out for the Chateau-Thierry monument. It sits on a hill overlooking the town of Chateau-Thierry and the Marne River Valley. It's huge and beautiful, with a large eagle representing the United States in the center of numerous columns facing east toward the river valley, and two women holding hands to the rear of the monument, representing the friendship and cooperation between France and the United States during the war. Below the eagle is inscribed, "Time will not dim the glory of their deeds," a quote from General Pershing. Beneath the structure is a visitor's center. We passed through security and metal detectors to get in there, and this was by far the best visitor's center we'd seen yet. We spent a while reading about the battles here, seeing photographs and video clips, and displays of uniforms and artillery. They had quite a few haunting photos and sketches of the men who fought here, men who had seen hell and were probably never the same again. Their sacrifice, and the sacrifices of those who were wounded or killed here, was highlighted at this place. There were several other visitors at this monument, which was nice to see.
We then went on to the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery, about a 45-minute drive from Chateau Thierry. This is the second largest American WWI cemetery. There are over 6,000 Americans there. We spent some time walking around the grave plots, and found one of Courtland's WWI Centennial Commission volunteer friends' relatives buried there and took photos. There is a large flag pole in the center of the cemetery, and then we walked up to the monument. It's a pinkish color with massive polished marble columns, arranged in a semicircle. On both sides of the monument, there are chapels. We spent time exploring and photographing and then sat at one side of the cemetery to have our snack of croissants from the hotel. We walked around some more and then heard the carillons play at 2pm. We figure that they must play on every even hour of the day, and on the odd hours the bells just toll the hour. The reception center at this cemetery was closed because they were redoing the floors in there, so we didn't get to go in and meet the director. Courtland emailed him later though!
We headed back to our hotel after picking up some groceries. Got to relax a bit and nap before getting ready to meet the mayor of Chateau-Thierry and Courtland's pen pal Vincent. Courtland's been emailing Vincent for about three years and it's their first meeting. We drove to the City Hall and were waiting in the parking area when Vincent recognized Courtland from pictures and walked up to us. Watching them greet for the first time in person was really neat. Vincent's English is pretty darn good, though we can tell he gets frustrated because he can't say all that he wants to say as fast as he wants to say it, but we are SUPER grateful for all the English he knows because it's infinitely more than the French that we know! We chatted for a few minutes with him and then went inside the City Hall. It's best described as an old castle, an incredibly beautiful building. They showed us around a little bit while we waited for the mayor. He was at a funeral, but was kind enough to spirit away for a while to meet with us, and then he went back. He was very nice, seemed to be about 40 years old, and his English was impeccable. They greeted us with a small reception (about a dozen people, including us) with pastries and champagne, and took photos as Courtland presented the mayor with the Beverly Hills proclamation and photographs of the Hunter and Hounds statue from Beverly Hills. They gave us a bottle of champagne with glasses in a box, because of course we are in the Champagne region of France! As they said, they use every excuse to drink champagne, so we all toasted and Courtland actually drank a few sips of champagne!
We talked with the mayor for a while until he left, and then with the rest for a while longer. By then we had been there for almost an hour, and Vincent offered to walk us over to a point of interest nearby. He walked us around the block and showed us a building that had been in one of the WWI photos he had shown us on postcards at the reception, that is now a U.S.-France visitor information center, at the second floor of which he'd arranged a WWI exhibit. We then walked back to our cars and Courtland gave Vincent copies of the Hunter and Hounds photographs we'd had blown up into 8x10s, as well as challenge coins from the WWI Centennial Commission and LAPD Rampart Division. He was thrilled at it all, and was so funny with the police challenge coin, he immediately put it against his chest like a badge and started pretending he was the police. He joked he was going to have to hide it from people because they'd try to steal it from him; he really liked the coins.
We asked Vincent if the Chateau-Thierry monument, which is lit at nights, is open, and he said that only lovers go up there at night. We laughed and told him we were going. We said our goodbyes and arranged to meet tomorrow at the hotel to go out. We left and found a restaurant to try called the "Buffalo Grill." We thought it was funny to eat at a place that looked like it was straight out of Denton, complete with longhorns on the sign, but it was probably the best food we've had yet here in France. Aside from the ribs that Courtland had, which were great American style BBQ ribs, everything we ordered was distinctly French, though it was "American" food. Mozzarella sticks were made of great French cheese and had some seeds sprinkled into the fried crumbs on the outside. Our fears in France that we wouldn't find food that we liked was totally unfounded.
After dinner, and desserts, we drove up to the lover's lane of the Chateau-Thierry monument. A couple was leaving as we came in, and after we were done taking pictures of the monument (no hanky-panky) all lit up, another car was coming in, as if we had all booked our time slots to have the place to ourselves. Then it was back to the chateau for winding down and sleep.
Thursday, October 11, 2018
After breakfast at the chateau we got ready to go for a day with Vincent as our guide. He punctually met us at 10am in front of our hotel. He first drove us to the 42nd "Rainbow" Division Memorial at the Croix Rouge Farm, which commemorates the Battle of the Ourcq River. The Rainbow Division suffered severe casualties here pushing the German forces back across the river. There was a statue of a soldier carrying a wounded fellow soldier, the sister statue of which is erected in Montgomery, Alabama. There was also the nearly completely destroyed remains of the large farm wall that once stood here.
We then drove to the spot in a field near Chamery, France, where Quentin Roosevelt, son of former president Roosevelt, crashed in a plane during the war. And when we say drove, we mean drove and then walked about ten minutes into a field, passing horses along the way. Then we walked through the quaint, very small town to a memorial fountain to Quentin Roosevelt, which sits alongside the small road going through town and serves a dual purpose as a watering basin for livestock. It bears a quote from his father, "Only those are fit to live who are not afraid to die."
We then went back to the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery and Vincent tried his best to get us to see the Director there, but he was not at the site. We drove to another town to sit at a picnic table and eat our lunches before heading to meet Gilles (pronounced "Jeel") at some WWI caves. They are not open to the general public and operate off donations. Until Gilles took over care of it about 13 years ago, some of the cave "graffiti" was being removed and artifacts from within taken.
Armed with only sweaters and a couple of flashlights and cell phone lights, we descended two tall ladders into the start of the caves. To say that they are vast is an understatement. They easily held tens of thousands of soldiers in their heyday. They go down many levels all the way to the groundwater where there are boats at an underground river. We didn't go down nearly that far, but we spent almost three hours following Gilles and hoping that he didn't keel over from a heart attack or from the cigarettes that he kept smoking down there because he was the only one of the four of us who knew where the heck he was going. It amazed us that he knew his way around, the cave system is absolutely immense. It is mostly wide enough for a person to lay down on each side with room for walking in the middle, and tall enough for a six-foot tall person to walk through, though there were plenty of places where we had to duck down and sometimes squeeze through smaller spaces. There were also lots of places where the roof or passageways had collapses, likely due to grenades and such, but it was disconcerting. I had to keep telling myself that this cave has stood for one hundred years, and that it would stand for at least one more day until we got out of there!
Inside the caves are thousands of wall graffiti etchings and drawings by soldiers not just of WWI but going back centuries. I think the oldest date we saw written was 1763. There were artifacts like barbed wire, mattress wire, boots, cans, bottles, banana magazines for rifles with ammunition, rifle barrels, and helmets. We saw areas where the soldiers had their generators and phone lines and where they cooked, threw their trash, and slept. There were etchings and sketches of ships, roosters, hearts, men and women's faces, skulls, insignia, initials, names, dates, regiments, clovers, crosses, U.S. states and addresses of the soldiers, flags, Native Americans, horses, prayers, and vertical lines in groups of five indicating numbers of days spent there. Courtland was infinitely amused to see someone sketched "Red Socks 7 Yanks 4" referring to games won in the regular baseball season together in 1917. It was cold down there, and we were a little happy when Gilles decided to liberate us after hours of exploring. He gave us several pieces of ammunition that had been discovered in the cave, but we probably won't be able to take them home! They both loved Courtland's General Pershing t-shirt, and their reactions upon first seeing it were classic.
Vincent drove us to a final memorial, the National Monument of the Second Battle of the Marne, a French monument, on the Chalmont Hill outside the town of Oulchy-le-Chateau. Going up a hillside, there is a statue of a woman representing France, four sets of stairs representing each year of the war, and 25-foot tall monument of statues of various soldiers (a young recruit, a combat engineer, a machine-gunner, a grenadier, a colonial soldier, an infantryman, a pilot, and a ghost of death). We enjoyed walking up there and taking in the view that the statues have of the countryside. The designer, Paul Landowski, fought during WWI and also designed the Chirst the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro. Then he drove us back to our hotel at Chateau-Thierry. We said our goodbyes to him and our thank yous, having left him the champagne that we'd been given by the mayor for he and his wife to enjoy. We'd so enjoyed spending the day with him. His English had been good and got us through the day, enabling us to communicate a lot! He was funny in that he thanked us almost every time we helped him find an English word he was searching for. We were so happy to have spent the day with him, and couldn't express our full gratitude for his hospitality and kindness.
Friday, October 12th
Courtland believed that the article that was written about his proclamation from Beverly Hills would be published today. We didn't find it though, and set off for the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, which is about 20 minutes from Chateau-Thierry.
A long road lined with large oak trees and rows of roses leads visitors up to the Visitor Center. The Director wasn't there, but we did speak to an employee briefly. Aisne-Marne has 2,289 graves set on a hill leading up to Belleau Wood. We found one of the Victory Memorial Grove tablet names, Hascall Waterhouse, and one medal of honor recipient, and took pictures. In the middle up against the Wood is a beautiful memorial chapel. Its stained glass was very pretty, and bore the shields of many of the divisions who fought at the site. The altar had gold acorns, whose significance we later saw walking through Belleau Wood (the ground is covered in acorns!) We got to hear the carillons play at 12 noon before we set off for the trails of the Wood.
We began at the ruins of a former hunting lodge. Belleau Wood used to be the hunting camp of wealthy people. The hunting lodge became a place of strategic significance during the battle at Belleau Wood, mostly because it was the only recognizable structure in the whole woods. We understood that better while walking through the thick forest, and could only imagine how easy it was to get turned around and utterly confused in battle there. We passed many craters in the ground that were WWI artillery craters, foxholes, and trench lines. We also passed German artillery cannons and guns that had been placed in the woods. One had a barrel that had been split in half! We saw the Marine monument in the middle of the wood, which was designed by the same guy who did the Iwo Jima Memorial in D.C. More artillery was set up around the monument, along with the oak trees known as "The Veterans" who had seen the battle. We walked past the points where the battle began across a wheat field leading up to the wood, as well as the point where the German Army advanced no further toward Paris, 35 miles away, thanks to the Americans and French who fought there.
The fighting at Belleau Wood and Chateau-Thierry in May-July 1918 was of great significance to WWI. Trying to win the war in Spring 1918 before the American army became fully operational, the Germans launched major offensives on the Western Front. At the end of May, the Germans broke through the French lines at the "Chemin des Dames," a road that we traveled on yesterday. They reached Belleau Wood and the Marne River in Chateau-Thierry within three days. Panicked and without reserves, the French called upon the American Expeditionary Forces for much needed help. The 3rd Division blocked the Germans in ChateauThierry and the 2nd Division arrived for the fighting at Belleau. Marines led the battle in Belleau Wood and it lasted 20 days before the U.S. forces prevailed over the Germans. Legend has it that their ferocious fighting at Belleau Wood earned the Marines their nickname "Devil Dogs" from the Germans who survived there. After this, the Allied forces rallied to the Aisne-Marne Offensive, pushing the German line back. Later successes in St. Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne campaigns would win the war and lead to the Armistice in November
After a couple hours' walking, we returned to the chapel area to eat our lunch while listening to the carillons at 2pm. We got the key from the staff at the Visitor's Center to go visit the church at Belleau Village, which is across the road from the cemetery. It had some of the prettiest stained glass we've seen yet, depicting divisions of American soldiers and actual soldiers who fought there. The 26th "Yankee" Division actually re-built that church because it was destroyed as the Yankee Division was liberating the town of Belleau from the Germans. We also said hello to some cows in a pasture next to the church.
After returning the key to the church, we traveled back to Chateau-Thierry. We had passed it many times, but we actually parked and took a look at the 3rd "Rock of the Marne" Division monument there, and visited the France-America "Friendship Center" about a block away. We got postcards and went to the post office to mail them to our parents. Then we returned to the hotel for a rest before going on a second excursion for the newspaper article featuring Courtland, which we found! I was so excited, I bought every copy the "Target" had (four!).
To continue to Part Two click here: California Couple Visit France Investigating WW1 & Make a Connection for Two Cities - Part Two