DLA team marks Memorial Day in visit to WWI commemoration in France

By Jim White, DLA Europe and Africa

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Over the Memorial Day weekend, members of the Defense Logistics Agency Europe and Africa Enterprise team traveled to Château-Thierry, France, to participate in the World War I Centennial Commemoration at the Aisne-Marne Cemetery. It records the names of 1,060 missing and holds the remains of 2,289 soldiers, sailors and Marines who died in the battles of Belleau Wood and Château-Thierry from May 27 to July 18, 1918.  

Joining in the visit from DLA were Marine Lt. Col. Ian Galbraith, Navy Cdr. Josh Elston, Air Force Maj. Jim Voytilla, Rich Deguzman, Joe Caire and Jim White, along with spouses and friends.

The spring of 1918 was a bleak one for the Allies; huge losses in the 1917 Allied offensives had led to a manpower crisis. German U-boat successes resulted in civilian food shortages, and the collapse of Russia freed thousands of fresh German troops for duty on the Western Front. Though the United States entered the war in April 1917, the thousands of fresh American troops expected had yet to arrive. Allied forces nearly broke on May 27, when Operation Blucher crushed the French and British defenders along the road known as the Chemin des Dames, taking 60,000 prisoners and advancing 30 miles toward Paris.

To meet the crisis, the commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, General of the Armies John “Black Jack” Pershing, offered his only available resources: the 2nd and 3rd Infantry Divisions. From May 31 to June 5, the machine gunners and riflemen of the 3rd Division were instrumental in stopping all German attempts to cross the River Marne at Château-Thierry. At the same time, less than 50 miles from Paris, the Marines and Army doughboys of the 2nd Division stopped the German attacks outside the small villages of Lucy-le-Bocage, Vaux and Belleau.

June 6 dawned bright, and the Marines of the 5th and 6th Regiment attacked across the adjacent wheat fields to seize Belleau Wood. While the Marines suffered 1,087 casualties that day, their fight over the next 20 days became synonymous for the courage, tenacity and will to succeed that inspire Marines to this day.

Likewise, by their steadfast July 15-17 defense of the vital Marne River, the soldiers of the 38th Infantry won the unit its nickname, “Rock of the Marne” and the 3rd Division earned its moniker “Marne Division.”

While these two actions cost the 2nd Division 9,777 casualties (including 1,811 dead) and the 3rd Division the first of their 16,117 WWI casualties, they decisively answered the question, “Would Americans fight?” The award of seven Medals of Honor for these actions emphatically answered that Americans would fight with valor.

The 100th Anniversary ceremony was a powerful experience for all the DLA-E/A members . One mentioned at the Bulldog Fountain, “I really cannot believe I’m here.” All of us stood in awe at this representation of the selfless dedication, courage and sacrifice demonstrated by those who won the day on these hallowed grounds.

As the engraving on the Aisne-Marne Memorial states: Time shall not dim our remembrance of their deeds.