“Here, 95 years ago, the U.S. Marines stopped the German army’s last great offensive of World War I.”
At Belleau Wood, just outside Paris, the scars of war are everywhere: shell holes so large they could hold a car, the remains of trenches, pockmarked stone walls and trees that still contain pockets of mustard gas trapped deep in their trunks.
Here, 95 years ago, the U.S. Marines stopped the German army’s last great offensive of World War I.
This week, as an unpaid volunteer historian, I accompanied 20 men and women of the U.S. Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment as they carefully tramped back to the front where their Marine forebears fought nearly a century ago. Later in the week, I will give them a guided tour of Pointe du Hoc and the other crucial beaches and airborne-drop zones of Normandy.
All the Marines on this trip received severe wounds in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. Three were wounded in both conflicts. For some veterans, intense firefights and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) took their arms and legs. Many carry scars that vividly arc across their bodies.
As we rode to the battlefield, they shared memories of fighting as intense as any that I had heard from the thousands of World War II soldiers and Marines I have interviewed over the years. Several of the Marines showed me pictures of their spines and legs that resembled erector sets.