5/28/2012 By Cpl. Tatum Vayavananda , Marine Forces Europe

BELLEAU, France — Towered by a Romanesque chapel and flanked by 2,289 epithets of the fallen, U.S. Marines and citizens, along with French troops and locals of the town of Belleau, gather to honor the fallen at Aisne-Marne American Memorial Cemetery, May 27.The event was broadcasted live on American Forces Network and had more than 4,000 in attendance.

The ceremony marked the 94th anniversary of the battle and embodied the legacy Belleau Wood has given to the Marine Corps and the brotherhood that unites an American-French friendship that has lasted from before World War I to current-day contingency operations.

“Belleau Wood has also come to symbolize the commitment of the American and French people to the shared ideals of liberty and justice,” said Gen. Joseph Dunford, the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps.

“This morning, we remember that we were shoulder-to-shoulder defending those high ideals here at Belleau Wood; just as we were at Yorktown and just as we are in Afghanistan today.”

Though seldom mentioned in traditional history texts, Belleau Wood holds an endearing place in the hearts of all Marines.

Belleau Wood is a 200-acre forest located by the Marne River, approximately 90 kilometers north of Paris; a morsel of French territory that was contended for by the opposing German forces due to its strategic location. For the Germans, stopping the newly-arrived American troops would have been both a strategic and demoralizing victory over the Allied forces.

The Battle for Belleau Wood was fought on June 1-26 of 1918; it was the first time the Marine Corps was given its trial-by-fire to prove to the world that it was more than just a simple naval infantry. On June 6th, 1918, the Marine Corps saw more losses on a single day than its past 143 years of existence. However, that was not enough for the Marines to retreat.

After weeks of heavy back-and-forth battling between the Allies and Germans, often resulting in the use of bayonets and hand-to-hand combat, on June 26, the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines attacked Belleau Wood and cleared the forest of the opposition, ending one of the most ferocious battles the U.S. would fight during the war.

“Today, Belleau Wood is a spiritual touchstone; its name has become synonymous with the intangible traditions of our Corps,” added Dunford.

Backing up the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps were Marines and Sailors from commands throughout Europe and the United States, including members of the 5th Marine Regiment from Camp Pendleton, Calif., Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team out of Rota, Spain, and Marine Forces Europe from Stuttgart, Germany.

Performances by local school children and the French Military band were followed by French and American invocations, then speeches by Dunford and Gen. Jean-Jacques Poch, Commandant of the North French Defense Area.

Wreathes were then laid to honor the fallen, followed by taps, and the raising of the national American and French colors from half to full-staff. The finale included performances by the French Army band, the U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps, and the Silent Drill Platoon of Marine Barracks Washington, D.C.

“It was an amazing experience and it’s amazing that we took part in a remembrance ceremony to honor Memorial Day,” said Sgt. Joseph W. Wooden, a squad leader with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment.

The 5th and 6th Marine Regiments are the only Marine units authorized to wear the French fourragère. These units were awarded the right to wear the decoration on their left shoulder as a result of being the only regiments in the American Expeditionary Force to receive the Croix de Guerre, an award for distinction in combat with the enemy, three times during the First World War.

“It’s our history and lineage and it’s important that we all take time on this day to remember the ones that came before us and shaped the way we are today,” said Wooden, a Santa Ana, Calif., native.

Keeping with Memorial Day traditions, miniature American and French flags flew on each of the 2,039 known-buried, and 250 unknown whose remains are buried not identified, graves in the 42.5-acre cemetery. Inscribed in the Romanesque-style memorial chapel is a list of 1,060 names to remember the missing.

“94 years after the terrible fighting which united them in blood, American Marines and French soldiers find themselves once more at Belleau Wood to celebrate, through their unfailing brotherhood of arms, the powerful bonds of friendship which exists between our two countries,” said Poch.

“Their sacrifice will always inspire the brotherhood which unites our two nations aiming at the same fate… To promote and to defend the values of liberty which unites us.”

The Memorial Day celebration is an annual event that is hosted by the American Battle Monuments Commission at Aisne-Marne American Memorial Cemetery. The ABMC is the guardian of America’s overseas commemorative cemeteries and memorials that honor the service, achievements and sacrifices of the U.S. Armed Forces.

“It is not enough to pause and mark the graves here with flags and wreaths,” Dunford added.

“If we truly want to honor those who fought and died here, each American and French citizen will leave here with renewed commitment to our nations and the values for which they stand. Each of us will leave here determined to serve our nation and our community in honor of those who have given their all.”