On the 4th of July, 1916 poet Alan Seeger took part in the assault on the strong German positions in the village. The action was a component of the larger Somme Offensive. Seeger was killed as his comrades successfully stormed the village and put the enemy to flight. He met his "rendezvous with death" which he had predicted in his most famous poem.
The assault on the village is considered one of the Legion's greatest feats-of-arms. After the war, Seeger's family donated a bell for the village's chapel; as well as fruit trees. Both were destroyed when the Germans returned in 1940. Today, the small village school is named for Alan Seeger.
The American volunteers of the 2nd company of the 2nd Legion regiment were stationed in the ruins of this elegant chateau during the first winter of the war. The sous-officier of German extraction that helped the Americans learn how to become legionnaires, a man by the name of Weidemann, was killed by enemy fire in a skirmish near the chateau. His fellow German countrymen bashed his head in with rifle butts then howled in derision at the legionnaires. Weidemann's past was a mystery. He could have left the Legion, or requested a colonial posting, when the war broke out rather than fighting Germany, but even more mysteriously he chose to stay.The volunteers never forgot him.
Today, the chateau is a reconstruction of the building which stood on the site during World War I. Even by the time the Americans first glimpsed it on a moonlit night in 1914, the roof had already been blown off. The Germans had overrun the nearby village of Craonelle and the wooded area around the chateau in the early days of the war, only to be driven back (at least partly) by a ferocious French counterattack. The village and the ridge above (the Chemin des Dames) represented the front lines in this remote region of France.
The chateau can be reached via a winding dirt road through a forest. The ground's keeper is M. Jean-Luc Despocq. I would recommend writing him in advance before showing up to visit the chateau. He is very knowledgeable about the history of this famous locale. He can be reached via mail at: Chateau du Blanc Sablon, 02160 Craonelle, France.
Along with Fort Douamont, Fort Vaux was the site of some of the most intense fighting of the months-long Battle of Verdun in 1916. A contingent of the American volunteers fought here as part of the 170th Regiment after having transferred from the Foreign legion in the aftermath of the Champagne Offensive of 1915. Frank Musgrave of San Antonio, was assigned to another unit after recovering from wounds, and was captured by the Germans while defending the village of Vaux below the fort. His friend, Jack Janz of Philadelphia, was killed by artillery fire at Fort Vaux.
The 170th also fought nearby in the Bois de la Caillette. From the top of Fort one can easily grasp the strategic significance of commanding the heights east of the ancient city of Verdun.
The massive French spring offensive in 1915 was launched over this ground in Artois, with the heights of Vimy Ridge as the objective. The American volunteers of the 2nd company 1st Foreign Legion regiment went over the top on May 9th 1915. Kiffin Rockwell, newly-transferred from the 2nd regiment, was wounded in the assault and wrote his brother a memorable letter about his experience
The attacking units partly achieved their objective, but were not able to hold it when insufficiently reinforced by the French High Command. A second attempt was made on June 16th. In particularly ferocious hand-to-hand combat, both Kenneth Weeks and Russell Kelly were killed.
This grand expression of the historical bond between France and the United States is situated in a park to the west of Paris. Marnes-la-Coquette can be easily reached via the commuter line from the Gare St.-Lazare (Garches / Marnes-la-Coquette stop). It's a short walk from the station
The memorial was dedicated in 1928, and honors the American pilots who served in the famous Lafayette Escadrille (originally N. 124 squadron). It's really quite impressive..
Among the pilots honored here are a number of the original American volunteers of 1914, including Victor Chapman, Kiffin Rockwell, and Paul Pavelka. Chapman & Rockwell, along with fellow 1914 volunteers, William Thaw and Bert Hall, helped form the nucleus of this legendary pursuit squadron.
This memorial honors all of the American volunteers who fell serving in the French armed forces during World War I. Unlike the larger memorial at Marnes-la-Coquette that honors only the pilots of the Lafayette Escadrille.
French sculptor, Jean Boucher, used the poet Alan Seeger's visage as his inspiration for the figure atop the memorial. It was dedicated in 1923.
The Foreign Legion regiments serving in France during World War I were part of the famous Moroccan Division. It was noted for its attacking prowess, never more evident than in its assault on Vimy Ridge in 1915. The English translation of the Division's motto: "No fear, No pity."
The Musée de l'Armée in Paris is a "must-visit." The museum is located at Les Invalides in the 7th arrondissement. Among its impressive collection can be found the original U.S. flag carried by the American volunteers on August 25th, 1914 en route to the Gare St.-Lazare (see colorized image). The flag was signed by a number of the volunteers, some of whose signatures are still legible.
This memorial was erected above the remains of thousands of soldiers who could not be properly identified after the battle that occurred here in 1915 (and in subsequent battles over the same ground in 1916-1918). The American volunteers in both the 2nd and 3rd companies of the Foreign Legion's 1st Regiment, and the 2nd company of the Foreign Legion's 2nd Regiment, fought here. Henry Farnsworth was killed by enemy fire in the 1915 battle..
The three-figured statue was designed by the French sculptor, Maxime Real Del Sarte. It was dedicated in 1924.
The pyramid-shaped memorial sits atop a hill. It commands quite a view. In the area around the memorial there are remnants of the trenches, bouyeaux, and barbed wire from World War I. There are also multi-lingual signs explaining the history of the fighting at Navarin Farm and in other nearby areas of Champagne.
The poet, Alan Seeger, wrote his poem "Maktoob" while serving in Champagne. He wrote of the chalky white soil. Here one can see and touch the soil for one's self.
The poem "Maktoob" by Alan Seeger (this is my favorite poem by Seeger, I read it with my students each spring when they are studying World War I):
A shell surprised our post one day
And killed a comrade at my side.
My heart was sick to see the way
He suffered as he died.
I dug about the place he fell,
And found, no bigger than my thumb,
A fragment of the splintered shell
In warm aluminum.
I melted it, and made a mould,
And poured it in the opening,
And worked it, when the cast was cold,
Into a shapely ring.
And when my ring was smooth and bright,
Holding it on a rounded stick,
For seal, I bade a Turco write
Maktoob in Arabic.
Maktoob! "'Tis written!" . . . So they think,
These children of the desert, who
From its immense expanses drink
Some of its grandeur too.
Within the book of Destiny,
Whose leaves are time, whose cover, space,
The day when you shall cease to be,
The hour, the mode, the place,
Are marked, they say; and you shall not
By taking thought or using wit
Alter that certain fate one jot,
Postpone or conjure it.
Learn to drive fear, then, from your heart.
If you must perish, know, O man,
'Tis an inevitable part
Of the predestined plan.
And, seeing that through the ebon door
Once only you may pass, and meet
Of those that have gone through before
The mighty, the elite -- ---
Guard that not bowed nor blanched with fear
You enter, but serene, erect,
As you would wish most to appear
To those you most respect.
So die as though your funeral
Ushered you through the doors that led
Into a stately banquet hall
Where heroes banqueted;
And it shall all depend therein
Whether you come as slave or lord,
If they acclaim you as their kin
Or spurn you from their board.
So, when the order comes: "Attack!"
And the assaulting wave deploys,
And the heart trembles to look back
On life and all its joys;
Or in a ditch that they seem near
To find, and round your shallow trough
Drop the big shells that you can hear
Coming a half mile off;
When, not to hear, some try to talk,
And some to clean their guns, or sing,
And some dig deeper in the chalk -- -
I look upon my ring:
And nerves relax that were most tense,
And Death comes whistling down unheard,
As I consider all the sense
Held in that mystic word.
And it brings, quieting like balm
My heart whose flutterings have ceased,
The resignation and the calm
And wisdom of the East.