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Day Five of MOHA France Benefactor Tour

November 4, 2018

“High Water” for Getmany, “Holy Water” for Devil Dogs, By Chancy Kapp and Charlie Silver

Farewell to Reims and northeastern France, but not to bloodied ground.

Our route toward Paris tracked the sweep of the German Army in late summer 1914.  The Germans smashed their way in with metal helmets, machine guns and rapid-fire cannons.  The French had jaunty caps, bright red pants and expertise in Napoleonic tactics, not much help against the first “industrial warfare” attack.

The Germans reached the charming town of Meaux—home of brie cheese!—just outside Paris, with orders to storm the capital.  But the German commander thought he had a better idea —a flanking maneuver to the east.  His disobedience gave the French and their British allies time to catch up and fight back.  For eight days, the combined forces pushed back on a 150-mile front.  Parisian taxi cabs ferried reserves to battle as the conflict cost more than 20,000 lives each day.  The First Battle of the Marne saved Paris and began four long years in the trenches.

Our stop in Meaux took most of us to the spectacular Museum of the Great War.  Adjacent to an older memorial to American forces, the collection came almost entirely from a single scholar.  

The detailed exhibits helped us untangle the roots of WWI in 19th century conflicts and understand the complex alliances and simmering revolts that led to both World Wars.  

“I learned more about who was fighting whom and why from the museum’s five-minute video than I did in all my schooling,” said Nan Kester of High Point.

 

Four members of our group chose to devote the morning to a personal pilgrimage.  Charlie Silver has that story:

“Teufel Hunden” the Germans called them… “Devil Dogs”.  The WWI Battle of Belleau Wood was where the Marines earned this name and the two Marines in our group, Bill Hamlin (chair of the MOHA) and Charlie Silver (former chair), set off to walk through history.  Leaving the main group, Bill and Anne and Charlie and Dena explored the historic forest at Belleau Wood.  They saw trails, trenches, foxholes and artillery pieces.  It was quite obvious why this high ground overlooking the Marne Valley was so strategically important. So much so that the Marines of the 5th and 6th Regiments lost 1087 killed or wounded with more Marines killed in one day than the Marines had lost in their entire 143-year history.

The Memorial inscribed with the names of those lost in battle and never found, the field of thousands of crosses and the somber quiet of the foggy morning brought tears to the eyes of these two brothers of those heroes.  After long and strong hugs, the two Marines set off to drink from the Devil Dog fountain.  The fountain is set in a courtyard, accessible only by key, in the town of Belleau.  A visit to this symbol of the bravery and perseverance of the Marines and a drink from the fountain is a dream come true for only a few proud Marines.

Quietly, tearfully they set off to join the rest of the MOHA group, honored to be a part of the history these Marines had made long before Bill or Charlie served.  As Sergeant Dan Daly said “Come on you sons of bitches! Do you want to live forever?”  But the history Marines make does live forever in every new young Devil Dog!” 

Day’s end found us aboard ship in Paris, ready to sail into Normandy and the scenes of the Great War’s extension, World War II.  

A demain.