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Visiting World War I Marine Corps Battlefields

"World War I Battlefields" By David C. Homsher. Marine Corps Gazette, November 2005 (courtesy of the Marine Corps Association)

IronMikestatueBelleauWoodAs part of a continuing effort to keep alive the memory of the American soldiers who fought in France and Belgium during World War I (WWI), and to promote tourism to the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) battlefields in Europe, I would like to present to professional/amateur historians and to prospective battlefield travelers, tourists, and pilgrims alike, several French and American nationals who are well qualified to take Americans on individual tours, group tours, or staff rides on the AEF battlefields in France and in Belgium.

Amazingly enough, there are now a number of European historians living in France and Belgium who are dedicated to preserving the memory of the doughboys of the AEF who fought in Europe in 1918. All of these persons are conveniently, and coincidentally, placed where they are able to study the majority of the American WWI battlefields in France, and are able and willing to take American visitors out on these battlefields. These historians are able to advise prospective battlefield visitors as to the availability of lodging, such as bed-and-breakfast establishments, cottages, and hotels. All are fluent in both spoken and written English. All are possessed with an extraordinary and detailed knowledge of the old American battlefields, having spent an average of 15 years studying AEF unit histories and actually walking the ground over which the soldiers fought. Their knowledge is so extensive and detailed that, in many cases, they are able to show us the foxholes and trenches of AEF units down to the company level. This sort of detail is invaluable for those Americans who want to see exactly where their fathers and grandfathers fought to "save the world for democracy."

These European nationals, being "people of the country," are able to take you out to places on the American battlefields that would never be accessible or even known to American tourists. Many of the sites of interest are now private property. These European citizens, knowing the local people and the landowners, have a sort of carte blanche accessibility to the WWI battle areas and to the more interesting sites and vestiges de la guerre.

American WWI battlefield tourism seems to be on an upswing now that people are aware that there are knowledgeable people in Europe who will act as battlefield guides, not only for tour groups, but also for private parties. All of the following European historians have been very active in guiding Americans, both private parties and tour groups, around the old AEF battle areas. I have listed the historians by area of expertise.

Most U.S. Battlefields in France or Belgium

Tony Noyes, formerly head of Flanders Tours and renowned Western Front battlefield expert and guide, is available to take individual and group tours on all of the Western Front, not just the AEF. Contact Tony at 28 Rue d'Lorée de Bois, 7215 Bereldange, Luxembourg, e-mail noyesl418@yahoo.com; telephone 00-352-33-06-30.

Tony makes a point of taking travelers to "walk the ground" to better understand how and under what conditions the battles were fought. He has led a number of American tours to all of the U.S. battlefields, with the exception of those located in the Vosges Mountains.

Tony is a retired chairman of the Western Front Association. He has explored and led a number of tours and has lectured about the Western Front for over 25 years.

AEF Battlefields North of Paris

For all of the American battlefields north of Paris (the U.S. 27th and 30th Divisions at the Hindenburg Line, the U.S. 1st Division at Cantigny, etc.), your French historian/guide is Yves Fohlen, 14 Rue Favresse, 02300 Chauny, France, telephone 01-33-323-400-492, e-mail <Yfohlen@clubinternet.fr>;. Yves works as a full-time guide at the Chemin-des-Dames "Caverne du Dragon." Although he isn't employed in this capacity now, for many years Yves worked as a custodianguide at the Somme American Cemetery, Bony, France. Yves has spent 33 years studying the battlefields of WWI and is well qualified to show visitors the American battlefields north of Paris.

For the area of the Hindenburg Line campaigns in the north of Aisne, the battle of St. Souplet, La Selle River, and the Somme Sector, your French guide is Murielle Defrenne, 4 Rue Jean Moulin, 02420 Nauroy, France, telephone 01-33-323-098-134, e-mail <muriellembd@aol.com>;. Murielle works as a custodian-guide at the Somme American Cemetery, Bony, France.

The Marne Salient of 1918 and Belleau Wood

Coming down into the Marne salient of 1918 (that large triangle formed by Reims, Château-Thierry, and Soissons) and the battles there of the U.S. 1st, 2d, 3d, 4th, 26th, 28th, 32d, 42d, and 77th Divisions, your French guide/historian is Gilles Lagin, 24 Place de la Halle, 02810 Marigny-en-Orxois, France, telephone/fax 01-33-323-70-46-54, web site <http://perso.wanadoo. fr/war_1/>, e-mail <gilles.lagin@ wanadoo.fr>. Gilles Lagin is especially knowledgeable concerning the early battles of the U.S. 2d Division and the Marine Corps at Hill 142, Belleau Wood, Bouresches, and the Pas Fini sector. His knowledge of American battlefields and operations during the offensive operations of the AEF and their drives north to the Ourcq and Vesle Rivers is very extensive. Gilles is well versed concerning the battlefields of the U.S. 3d Division east of Château-Thierry and those of the U.S. 1st, 2d, and 4th Divisions in their drives in from the sides of the Marne salient.

Gilles Lagin's knowledge of the AEF battlefields in his area of France is so detailed that he is the only historian known in the world, for example, who can show you exactly where the German machineguns were on Hill 142, and where the command posts of the 30th and 38th Regiments (U.S. 3d Division) were in the Bois d'Aigremont. He also knows Belleau Wood in extreme detail. Mr. Lagin coordinates his battlefield guide activities with the officials at the American Embassy in Paris and with the superintendent at the Aisne-Marne American Military Cemetery, Belleau, France.

Mr. Lagin is expert at preparing a very interesting folder of maps, photographs, and other descriptions concerning the service of any memher of the AEF in the Marne salient of France. If you can provide him with some basic information about your AEF soldier, Gilles can really enlighten you about the man's service, even down to photographs of' where the soldier served, was wounded, or where he is buried. Gilles Lagin is also the owner/operator of the only museum in France devoted solely to the AEF. His museum is located in Marigny-en-Orxois, where Mr. Lagin resides.

Belleau Wood and Surrounding Area

A guide for Belleau Wood and its surrounding area is Col William Anderson, USMC(Ret). Col Anderson has been leading Marine Corps staff rides and tours of Belleau Wood off and on for 17 years, starting in 1988 when he was serving at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, the NATO military headquarters in Belgium. Col Anderson's expertise is in the battle from the Marine perspective. He gives a tour that is much more than a simple battlefield tour taking you to certain places. Bill Anderson's tours spend more time on the ground walking the battlefield as Marines, trying to appreciate the terrain, and talking about the personal stories he has collected over many years. He also talks about weapons and tactics and what was going on with the German opponents. Col Anderson says, "I will love to continue to participate in tours of BW [Belleau Wood] while living in Virginia. I am available at <binche57@yahoo.com>; and from 22 June at 540-850-4213."

Champagne

Continuing on to the Champagne area of France for the battlefields of the Marine Brigade of the U.S. 2d Division and of the 42d Division, as well as many areas of the Meuse-Argonne campaign, your French historian guide is Florent Deludet, 23, La Pépinière, Rue du 11 Novembre 1918, 53100 Vitry-le-Francois, France, telephone/fax 01-33-326-74-70-93, e-mail <Florent.deludet @wanadoo.fr>.

Mr. Deludet's areas of expertise are the battles of Champagne 1915, 1917, 1918 (French, Russian); the AEF in Champagne (U.S. 2d, 36th, and 42d Divisions at Blanc Mont and the U.S. 93d Division (Negro troops)) with the French Army; and the AEF in the Meuse-Argonne offensive (U.S. 1st, 28th, 35th, 42d, 77th, 78th, 82d, and 91st Divisions). Mr. Deludet states that his special area of interest is that of the U.S. 42d (Rainbow) Division. He is perhaps the only person who can show Americans the exact location of "Essen Hook" trench on the Blanc Mont battlefield.

St. Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne

For the area of the American Meuse-Argonne and St. Mihiel campaigns, your French battlefield guide is Mrs. Ingrid Ferrand, Lempire aux Bois, 55100, Verdun, France or B.P.3, 55100, Verdun, France, telephone 01-33-3-29-87-63-47, fax 011-33-3-29-85-70-81, e-mail <In grid.Ferrand@wanadoo.fr>;, web site <www.ingrid-tourisme-verdun. com>. Mrs. Ferrand is fluent in English and is a licensed guide for the Verdun area of France. Mrs. Ferrand is especially adept at taking Americans to the sites in the Meuse-Argonne where their fathers or grandfathers may have fought, were wounded, or died.

Frederic Castier, a Frenchman, 99 Rue Aristide Briand, 62100 Calais, France, telephone 01-33-612-983-347, fax 011-321-346-040, e-mail <Frederic.castier@wanadoo.fr>;, is the representative in France of the U.S. 1st Infantry Division (Veteran's Associations), and he works closely with the McCormick Tribune Foundation, Chicago, IL. Mr. Castier is also the official "assistant instructor" on the battlefields for the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force (USAF) in Europe, and in this capacity, he has led many tours over the AEF battlefields. He is well qualified to act as a guide on many of the American battlefields of WWI-Somme (Cantigny) and the Meuse-Argonne, where he knows of many private sites and their owners. Mr. Castier also works with the U.S. Army to conduct WWII staff rides in the American invasion area of Normandy, France.

For the area of the MeuseArgonne, St. Mihiel, and Verdun, another highly recommended guide is Mrs. Christina Holstein, the European Coordinator for the Western Front Association. Her address is 28 Rue d'Lorée de Bois, 7215 Bereldange, Luxembourg, telephone/fax 352-33-06-30, cell phone 350-021-223-848, e-mail <holstein@vo .lu>;.

Rob de Soete, a resident of the Netherlands, Pijlstaartpad 1, 5641 GV. Eindhoven, Netherlands, telephone 01-31-40-28-11-670, e-mail <r.desoete@tiscali.nl>;, has made a specialty of studying and traveling over the AEF Meuse-Argonne battlefields for a number of years.

Rob says, "Although I consider myself a real amateur on WWI, showing people around the Meuse-Argonne battlefields is really fun. As I don't have the intention of making money out of it, for me the interesting part is to meet 'fellow companions'."

Rob's specialty area is the area around Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, excluding the areas west of the Argonne Forest. Rob states that he is "an amateur historian" on AEF Meuse-Argonne battlefields and that he has "no official qualifications as a tour guide." What qualifications are really necessary, except the desire to show people around the battlefields and the knowledge and ability to do so? Rob is very fluent in English.

American Guides

In addition to the foreign nationals mentioned above, there are several well-qualified Americans who can lead individuals or small groups over the AEF battlefields of 1918.

Michael Hanlon, 904 24th Street, Richmond, CA 94804, telephone 510-215-7107, e-mail <greatwar@earthlink.net>; or <medward@hotmail.com>;, is webmaster for the Great War Society and Western Front Association and officer of the Western Front Association (USA), a graduate of Penn State University, and former USAF officer. Michael has many areas of expertise on the Western Front, but as far as Americans are concerned, his specialty areas are those of the St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne battlefields. Mr. Hanlon has led professional and private tours over the WWI battlefields and with the Great War Society.

Another guide for the St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne areas of France is John T. Snow, Dean, College of Geosciences, University of Oklahoma, Sarkeys Energy Center, Suite 710, 100 East Boyd Street, Norman, OK 73019-0628, telephone 405-325-3148, fax 405-325-3148, cell phone 405-590-9689, e-mail <snow @ hoth.gcn.ou.edu>. Dr. Snow has studied the American Meuse-Argonne and St. Mihiel campaigns in detail and has a very good working knowledge of both AEF battle areas. Dr. Snow hopes to retire shortly and start up a guide business in France.

MAJ Stephen McGeorge, USA (Ret), e-mail <Stephen.McGeorge @belvoir.army.mil>, the newly appointed Curator of Collections, National Museum of the United States Army, has also expressed his interest in leading battlefield tours over the Meuse-Argonne campaign area. MAJ McGeorge spent a good deal of time exploring the AEF battlefields in the Meuse-Argonne when he was assigned to the Army Airborne Brigade in Vincenza, Italy. McGeorge has also taught military history on the faculty at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

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