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thedrifter
07-22-07, 08:21 AM
The Florida Times-Union

July 22, 2007

Modern Marine Corps' 'Miracle' birth

By MARK PETTUS,
The Times Union

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"Come on! Do you want to live forever?" Marine First Sgt. Dan Daly shouted to his men on June 6, 1918, at Belleau Wood, France. Many of those men didn't live to see the sunset.

But the Marine Corps, which has adopted a slightly more colorful version of Daly's rallying call as part of its permanent lexicon, answered with a resounding "yes!" The battle that followed guaranteed the Corps' future as one of America's elite fighting forces.

Prior to Belleau Wood, the Marines had recruited heavily using the slogan "First to fight," but had instead spent the early days after America's entry into World War I working as "bellhops and stevedores," well behind the lines and far from the fighting.

Although they were frustrated at being held in the rear, the Marines were lucky to even exist. Prior to the war, the Corps had barely survived an effort by President Theodore Roosevelt to eliminate it and fold its forces into the Army.

Even after the fighting started, the Marines had trouble getting assigned to the combat theater. It was only after much political wrangling, and agreeing to serve under Army commanders, that the Corps was allowed to join American Expeditionary Force in France.

Belleau Wood is an ancient game preserve and was a playground for French aristocrats before the war. In June 1918, it became the apex of a swelling German line as the French army, exhausted by four years of trench warfare, crumbled in defeat and retreat.

The Marines, green, untested and commanded by an Army brigadier general, were all that stood between the German army and Paris. If the Germans had succeeded in taking Paris, as they did in World War II, France would likely have surrendered, and the war would have been over before most of the American army had finished basic training.

But the Marines held the line and stopped the German advance, despite horrific losses to machine gun fire, artillery and poisonous gas attacks. Then, in a bloody counter-attack, the Corps retook the wood and forced the Germans into retreat.

After the battle, the Marines were still scorned by the Army (Gen. Pershing wouldn't even allow the Marines' Army commander to attend the victory celebrations), but they became heroes of the French people.

The French army commander, Gen. Joseph Degoutte, declared after the battle that "henceforth . . . the Bois de Belleau shall be named Bois de la Brigade de Marine."

Many Americans later hailed the battle as the "Gettysburg of the Great War."

Axelrod draws you into the battle with his running narrative and delivers the damning impact of the battlefield on the young Marines bloodied for the first time at Belleau Wood in a way few stories of that first Great War have done.

He also delivers the nostalgic recollections of the surviving Marines who looked back on that pivotal battle from offices and sitting rooms years after the war, and intersperses them with news accounts of the battle as it progressed.

Through those varying perspectives, Axelrod brings a sense of reality to this book, and through it, to the battle and the almost forgotten war where it took place.

Anyone who loves the Marines, military history or action-adventure stories should love Miracle at Belleau Wood.

mark.pettus@jacksonville.com, (904) 287-0618, ext. 202

Title: Miracle at Belleau Wood: The Birth of the Modern U.S. Marine CorpsAuthor: Alan AxelrodData: Lyons Press, 248 pages, $24.95cms_sidebox()

Ellie