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Gift from French President recalls USMC WWI Belleau Wood heroics

On the South Lawn of the White House, American President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron plant a sapling from Belleau Wood in France, site of an historic battle for the US Marines during World War I.  First Ladies Brigitte Macron (left) and Melania Trump look on. 

On his visit to Washington DC this week, French President Emmanuel Macron brought a special gift to President Donald Trump, one that bears great World War I significance: an oak sapling. The European Sessile Oak came from the Belleau Wood in France, site of a back-and-forth World War I battle in France in June of 1918, in which more than 9,000 American Marines became casualties.

“The forest is a memorial site and an important symbol of the sacrifice the United States made to ensure peace and stability in Europe,” First Lady Melania Trump’s office said.

‘France is a very special country,’ President Trump said. ‘It’s a great honour.’

Belleau Wood was the first battle in World War I in which the majority of Allied troops were American; their success whenpitched against some of Germany’s most experienced combat veterans established the US Marine Corps was a world-class fighting organisation. The battle was part of Germany’s 1918 Spring Offensive, in which the German forces launched massive attacks to break through the Allied trench-lines and capture Paris.  They succeeded in breaking through the line near the towns of Chateau-Thierry and Vaux, after which they consolidated their positions in Belleau Wood, only sixty miles from the French capital, in preparation for the next phase of their advance.

In response, the out-numbered US reserve, consisting of the Army’s 23rd Infantry Regiment, the 1st Battalion 5th Marines, and an element of the Marines’ 6th Machine Gun Battalion, rushed to establish a new line, and then attacked the German forces in the dense woods.  They were reinforced by further Marine units and over the following four weeks it took six assaults before the Germans were pushed out of the wood.  The fight against elements of some five German divisions frequently involved close-range, hand-to-hand combat. The US forces suffered 9,777 casualties, including 1,811 killed.  Many of these dead are buried in the nearby Aisne-Marne American Cemetery.  There is no clear information on the number of German soldiers killed, although 1,600 were taken prisoner.

After the battle, General Pershing described Belleau Wood as being the most important US battle since the US Civil War.  The forest battle site was locally renamed Bois de la Brigade de Marines, or “Marine Corps Woods”.

France’s President Macron sees French-American partnership as a top priority and views it as being a special relationship that stretches back over 250 years.  He has made significant efforts to establish good relationships with President Trump over the past year, including hosting him for the 2017 Bastille Day festivities in Paris.

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