WWI Sacrifices Honored at American Cemetery in France

Americans and French commemorated Memorial Day, and the centennial of the World War I Battle of Belleau Wood, at a ceremony at Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in Belleau, France. An overflow crowd watched the ceremony on an oversized screen at the front of the cemetery. (Stars and Stripes photo/Michael Abrams)
Americans and French commemorated Memorial Day, and the centennial of the World War I Battle of Belleau Wood, at a ceremony at Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in Belleau, France. An overflow crowd watched the ceremony on an oversized screen at the front of the cemetery. (Stars and Stripes photo/Michael Abrams)

BELLEAU, France -- As U.S. Marines marched off the field on Sunday, the French who had gathered at Aisne-Marne American Cemetery for the Memorial Day ceremony broke out in applause.

The clapping continued as the Marines marched along the lane that leads to the cemetery gates.

The ceremony, observed by a standing-room-only crowd, took place on a grassy knoll beneath the chapel, flanked by the cemetery's 2,289 graves.

The event also marked the centennial of the Battle of Belleau Wood, where Marines and Army troops fought a bloody battle against German forces during World War I.

Now, 100 years later, former foes have become allies, something that was stressed by the ceremony's three main speakers, French Maj. Gen. Vincent Guionie, German army Lt. Gen. Carsten Jacobsen and Marine Corps commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller.

The ceremony also featured military bands from all three countries and poetry readings by students from a local high school.

The generals and other dignitaries laid wreaths at the steps of the chapel, while Marines fired a salute and a bugler, dressed in a World War I-era uniform, played taps.

Led by a Marine band playing the "Marines' Hymn," attendees walked to the Belleau Chateau for a reception.

Once there, the Marines drank water from the Bulldog fountain, a ritual for all Marines who visit what was once the battlefield of Belleau Wood.

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