Belleau Wood and the man who immortalized the Marine Corps

Belleau Wood and the man who immortalized the Marine Corps

“I’m on the front lines, going into Belleau Wood with the U.S. Marines.”

And on his final deployment, war correspondent Floyd Gibbons wandered into a melee of artillery and machine gun fire, armed only with a pen and paper.

This deployment would later help shape the ethos of the United States Marine Corps and define the nation’s view of the “Devil Dog” for more than a century.

A veteran reporter for the Chicago Tribune, the charismatic Gibbons reported on the 1916 Pancho Villa expedition and the sinking of the RMS Laconia. before taking on his latest assignment in 1917 as one of only 36 American reporters officially certified in World War I.

Gibbons, a non-combatant, ignored requests to withdraw and on June 6, 1918, joined the Marine attack through waist-high wheat fields into the woods several hundred yards away.

By early June, “more than 2,000 German soldiers with at least 30 machine guns were holed up in the Berreau Forest, and another 100 Germans with at least 6 machine guns were at Boulesche. ” historian David John Ulbrich recalled. Everyone was waiting for the Marines.

As the Marines advanced, enemy fire was “more than any living man could withstand,” Col. Albertus W. Catlin wrote in his memoirs.” Catlin was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1914 for his actions in Veracruz and commanded the 6th Regiment at Belleau Wood.

Gibbons, defenseless, was eventually cut down, bullets hitting his left arm, left shoulder blade, and left eye.

Gibbons, who was forced to lie in a field for three hours until it was safe in the dark, suspected he was dead. With his left hand and arm numb and his left eyeball split in half, Gibbons, lying on his cheek, pinched himself with his right hand to reassure him. He was indeed still alive.

However, according to an article in the Washington Post, news censors incorrectly believed Gibbons had died and “determined that it would be a crime to cut out the final footage of Gibbons’ life, and they did so as written.” I decided to pass it on.” .

When sending out his final dispatch, Gibbons expected the word “Marine Corps” to be omitted. Until then, wartime censorship did not allow correspondents to reveal which troops were on which front.

“The censors authorized Gibbons’ dispatch, giving all correspondents the same privileges,” the Post continued.

For three days, reports of Marine activity at Belleau Wood went uncensored, and the American public, starved for war news, was filled with tales of devil dogs engaging in close combat with fixed bayonets. Historian George B. Clark called it a “machine gun at close range.”

“By all accounts, the old warriors of the U.S. Marine Corps have been virtually wiped out,” Clark wrote. The Marines suffered 4,000 casualties and 1,000 dead, with an attrition rate of 55 percent, and lost more men in this single operation than in any previous campaign.

The dispatch from Gibbons, who would live another 21 years after the engagement, gave full praise to the 9,500-strong 4th Marine Brigade, completely ignoring the U.S. Army’s 2nd Division of the American Expeditionary Force, which fought alongside the Marines. . Even before the June 26 battle ended, the legend of the Belleau Wood Marines emerged, thanks to Gibbons’s ability to overcome censorship.

Belleau Wood, remembered for a gritty victory some 105 years ago, holds an immortal place in Marine Corps lore.

“The Germans were good,” Clark wrote. β€œThe Marines were better.”

Claire Barrett is Sightline Media’s Strategic Operations Editor and a World War II researcher with a unique affinity for Sir Winston Churchill and Michigan State football.

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