Gift from French President recalls USMC WWI Belleau Wood heroics
By Chris Isleib
Director of Public Affairs, United States World War One Centennial Commission
On his visit to Washington DC this week, French President Emmanuel Macron brought a special gift to President Donald Trump -- one that bears great World War I significance: an oak sapling.
The sapling, a European Sessile Oak, came from the Belleau Wood in France, site of a grinding, back-and-forth World War I battle in France that took place in June of 1918, in which more than 9,000 American Marines died one hundred years ago this June.
The two Presidents and their respective First Ladies appeared on the South Lawn to ceremonially throw dirt on the site where the tree, about a meter and a half tall and between five and 10 years old, had been planted.
"The forest is a memorial site and important symbol of the sacrifice the United States made to ensure peace and stability in Europe," First Lady Melania Trump's office said.
'France is a very special country,' President Trump said. 'It's a great honor.'
Belleau Wood was the first battle in World War I that employed a majority of U.S. Marine Corps infantrymen for the Allies, and their success in this difficult battle -- against some of Germany's most experienced combat veterans -- established the Marine Corps was a world-class fighting organization.
The battle came as part of Germany's 1918 Spring Offensive, in which the German military made a huge, desperate attempt to break through the allied trench-lines and capture Paris. They succeeded in breaking through the line near the towns of Chateau-Thierry, and Vaux. After breakthrough, they consolidated their position in the Belleau Wood -- only sixty miles from the French capital -- and prepared to continue attack forward.
In response, the out-numbered U.S. reserve — consisting of the Army's 23rd Infantry Regiment, the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, and an element of the Marines' 6th Machine Gun Battalion, rushed to reset a new line, and then attack the German forces in the thick Belleau Wood forest. Soon, more Marine reinforcements arrived in support.
Over the next four weeks, the woods were attacked by the Marines a total of six times before they could successfully expel the Germans. They fought off parts of five divisions of Germans, often reduced to using only their bayonets or fists in hand-to-hand combat.
U.S. forces suffered 9,777 casualties, including 1,811 killed. Many of these dead are buried in the nearby Aisne-Marne American Cemetery. There is no clear information on the number of German soldiers killed, although 1,600 were taken prisoner.
After the battle, General Pershing called Belleau Wood the most important U.S. battle since the U.S. Civil War. The forest battle site was locally renamed Bois de la Brigade de Marines, or the Marine Corps Woods.
France's President Macron sees French-American partnership as a top priority, and recognizes our special relationship that stretches back over 250 years. He has made significant outreach to President Trump over the past year, to include hosting him for last year's Bastille Day festivities in Paris.