Lynn Visits World War I American Cemetery in France
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
BELLEAU, France, June 18, 2011 “Time will not dim the glory of their deeds,” General of the Armies John J. Pershing said of U.S. service members. Near this village about 50 miles northeast of Paris today, Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III brought truth to that assertion as he paid his respects to 2,288 U.S. soldiers and Marines – 251 of whom have never been identified – buried on the site where they helped to stem a German offensive during World War I.
Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn III lays a wreath at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial near the village of Belleau, Aisne, France, on June 18, 2011. The Aisne-Marne Cemetery Memorial is situated at the foot of the hill on which stands Belleau Wood where many of those buried in the cemetery lost their lives. DoD photo by Terry Mitchell
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Lynn placed a wreath at the foot of the stairs of the chapel that overlooks the at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, before visiting the chapel and the nearby Belleau Wood, where much of the fighting took place and many of the Americans buried at the cemetery died.
Flora Nicolas of the American Battlefield Monuments Commission, public affairs officer for the cemetery, explained that Belleau Wood was significant because it represented the last natural barrier between 300,000 advancing German soldiers and Paris. The 3rd U.S. Division was the first to arrive when reinforcements were called in to help the French defend the Marne River, and the 2nd U.S. Division – which included 9,000 Marines – was in a reserve position and came as quickly as possible to Belleau Wood.
The 2nd U.S. Division had to cross open wheat fields in Belleau, and took heavy casualties before the division’s Marines killed German machine gunners occupying higher ground. The battle lasted 20 days, and on June 26, 1918, Belleau Wood was taken from the Germans.
Ten American divisions joined the fight and pushed back the German lines, crushing the offensive and marking the beginning of the end of World War I, Nicolas said.
The cemetery here was one of many temporary wartime cemeteries established by the Army’s Graves Registration Service, and was known as the American Expeditionary Forces Cemetery No. 1764 - Belleau Wood. In 1921, Congress authorized retention of the cemetery as one of eight permanent World War I military cemeteries on foreign soil. The following year, an agreement with the French government granted its use as a military cemetery forever, free of charge or taxation.
Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Lawrence D. Nicholson, Lynn’s senior military assistant, placed a wreath at a memorial in Belleau Wood honoring the U.S. Marines who fought there as part of the U.S. 2nd Division.
Two members of Congress – U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida and U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes of California – also were on hand for the visit, which included a stop at the famous “Devil Dog Fountain,” which honors the fighting spirit of the Marines who took Belleau Wood in June 1918.