As evening set upon the countryside of France in early June 1918, the U.S. Marine Corps Fourth Marine Brigade, charged into the woods near Bellau. The woods, a former hunting ground, were a stronghold of the German army. The French, to whom the Marines were attached, severely underestimated the hold which the Germans had on the wood.
The Marines, after fighting for weeks, were able to secure the woods on June 26, 1918. The total dead for America during the campaign was 1,811, the largest single loss for the Corps in its short history. But while they lost nearly 2000 men and nearly 6000 more were injured, the Marines learned here just how fierce they were.
While the French army urged the Marine regiment to retreat from the woods, it is said that Marine Corps Captain Lloyd Williams said “Retreat? Hell! We just got here.”
This quote now lives in infamy within the Corps.
It is also from this battle that the lore arose of the teufel hunden, the Devil Dog, the United States Marine.
These young men, America’s finest fighting force, proved that they could meet one of the world’s finest armies and defeat them even when they were outgunned and outnumbered.
They earned the name and it stuck.
If you have been around for a while you’ll know I’m the proud wife of a Marine Corps veteran, grew up in a Marine Corps town and proudly worked alongside active duty Marines when I worked at the public affairs office on the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center. I have so much pride for the Corps and its members. And while I’m the granddaughter of an Air Force airman and a West Point graduate, my heart will always swell just a little bit more for my Marines.
So it was fitting that as we drove through France, moving from England to Italy, we stopped by this most reverent spot.
Not far from the Bellau Woods, renamed the Bois de la Brigade de Marine (wood of the marine brigade), in the small village of Bellau, there stands a fountain. Unremarkable and almost missable, the fountain is the head of a dog protruding from a stone wall, cool, clear water continuously flowing from its open maw.
This ferocious beast, though it predates the battle, is now dubbed, the Devil Dog. And Marines for generations travel to Devil Dog fountain to pay their respects to their fallen brothers. Lore has it that if you drink from the fountain you not only pay respect to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice but you, yourself, will be protected in future battles.
Tim, of course, needed to drink from this fountain and while he said I could, to pay respect, I didn’t feel that it was right for me as there a brotherhood I’m not a part of.
I took photos of the beautifully peaceful spot and we walked back to the car. There is a small museum about the battle next to the fountain but they had closed for lunch. We didn’t return as we had to get on the road, but we did head up the road to pay our further respects at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Marine Corps memorial in the actual woods.
As I stood at the top of the hill in the cemetery I marveled and the peace that surrounded me when 104 years ago men fought bloody battles in hand to hand combat amongst broken and burnt trees. And as I think about those that rest here for eternity, I hope that the beauty and pesce we’ve given them is thanks enough for the sacrifice they made for us.