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Marine Forces Europe and Africa

United States Marine Corps

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Memorial Day ceremony honors Belleau Wood fallen

By Master Sgt. Grady T.Fontana | | May 29, 2011

More than 300 Marines and Sailors from commands throughout Europe and the United States, along with about 2,000 French locals, gathered at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, here, for a Memorial Day ceremony to honor the dead and missing of the World War I battle of Belleau Wood.

The 35th Commandant of the Marine Corps General James F. Amos, backed by Marines from Marine Corps Forces Europe, members of 5th and 6th Marine Regiments, and Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team Company Europe gathered to remember and honor the 2,289 war-dead who are buried at the 42.5-acre cemetery.

“Just behind me, and over this hill, on a single day, June the 6th, 1918, the Marine Corps sustained more casualties than it had in its previous 143 years of existence,” said Amos in a speech in front of dignitaries and French locals. “On that day, the Marine Corps transformed from simple naval infantry to one of the most feared and revered fighting forces the world has ever known.”

The ceremony featured remarks by Monique Benier, the Mayor of Belleau, along with memorial addresses from both Amos and French Commander of Land Forces Lt. Gen. Herve Charpentier. The laying of wreathes, poetry readings, and performances by the French Army Band, the 'Commandant's Own' Drum and Bugle Corps, and the U.S. Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon were also featured. 

“Belleau Wood is one of those touchstone battles for the Marine Corps,” said Lt. Gen. John M. Paxton Jr., commanding general, II Marine Expeditionary Force and commander, Marine Corps Forces Africa. “Ever since 1918, when we were over here, it was a watershed battle that put the United States Marine Corps onto the world map and has solidified our relationship with both the Army and the nation of France. For Marines today, it’s part of that legacy of courage and commitment.”  

Belleau Wood is a 200-acre forest that adjoins the cemetery behind the memorial chapel. At the cemetery, there are 2,039 known buried and 250 unknown whose remains are buried but not identified. In the chapel, there are 1,060 names inscribed on the walls to remember the missing.

“It’s an honor for me to stand here today with my fellow Marines and our French allies,” said Amos. “Belleau Wood is a spiritual place for those of us who are called United States Marines. It reaches deep inside of us to our soul and reminds us of who we truly are.”

For most Marines, the experience was universal.

 “This is my second time here at Belleau Wood,” said Paxton. “To come back here, you get a sense of the monumental challenge in front of those Marines in 1918…it’s a fitting tribute to their valor and their sacrifice.”

“This was a good experience for me,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew M. Pfarr, disbursing travel chief, MarForEur. “The bands and the Silent Drill Platoon performed very well—the addition of their performances cemented this experience in my mind. I thought it was a great tribute to those who died here and I’m glad I was a part of this trip.”