Marine Corps University sponsored the five-day PME trip for Marines with Headquarters and Service Battalion, Headquarters Marine Corps, Henderson Hall, and Marine Barracks Washington, D.C. After a full day of travel, a day in Paris and a day at Normandy, the Marines spent the fourth day at Belleau.
Led by Mr. Ray Shearer, a Marine veteran and director and chairman of the American Oversees Memorial Day Association, the day began at Les Mares Farm, in the countryside near the town of Belleau. Marines learned the Marines of the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments arrived without adequate food, water, equipment or maps of the terrain and area.
Marines continued the tour by bus then hiked from the roadside through a trail and local farm fields to Hill 142. With the trail leading into woods, Marines explored trenches that were once fighting positions for Marines during World War I.
“There’s no better way to educate than by walking on the battlefield,” said Shearer.
By bus, the next stop was a wheat field to continue learning about the battle. Throughout the day, three Marines each spoke about the heroic acts of Marines during the Battle of Belleau Wood.
From the wheat field, Marines walked down the road to a small town of Lucy le Bocage. From a hill in the town, a house in the distance of the countryside was pointed out as the headquarters for the 6th Marine Regiment.
“Being able to walk and see some of these sights that still exist after almost 100 years,” said Cpl. Joshua Bettis, a distribution management office outbound counselor. “To me it’s unbelievable; there’s still trenches dug out by the Marines who came before us.”
After a short bus ride, the Marines continued the tour on foot, walking to the town of Bouresches, continuing along the edge of farm fields into the woods of Belleau. While in the woods, Marines paused to look at trenches, holes and impressions in the ground from fighting holes and enemy shelling.
“For me I had goose bumps all day getting to see these places,” said Sgt. Curtis Dunham, operations noncommissioned officer in-charge, Administrative Resources Information.
After hiking for more than an hour through the woods passing by a bunker and fortification, Marines stood in a clearing of Belleau Wood where the final attack of the battle took place. Marines took photos of the Marine Monument with a life-size sculpture of a World War I Marine surrounded by cannons. A tree with a huge knot also stands in the clearing. Under the knot is a shell which the tree has grown over. Marines also collected dirt, bark and leaves.
From the Belleau Wood Marine Monument, Shearer led the Marines down a trail to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial where more than 2,200 American service members are interred. Each service member is honored with a white marble marker of a cross or Star of David.
Marines had time to tour the chapel over looking each service member’s final resting place. Evening colors took place with Marines lowering two American flags as the Navy Hymn, Eternal Father Strong to Save, was sounded from the chapel, followed by God Bless America.
“The colors ceremony is something I will never forget. To see the colors come down at Belleau Wood, I’ll never forget that,” said Dunham. “Being at the Belleau Wood Memorial and Cemetery gave me a tingle up my spine.”
Following the path lined with neatly trimmed trees, bushes of flowers and immaculately cut, lush, green grass, Marines traveled to take a quick drink from the Devil Dog Fountain a short distance down the road.
“Our memories dim with time and the best way to honor the service members who fought here for freedom, our liberties and France is to educate our young troops today,” said Shearer.