History, Patriot, Quote of the Day, War

“Come on, you sons of bitches! Do you want to live forever?”

Commemorating the Battle of Belleau Wood, 102 years ago this month, and Sergeant Daniel Joseph Daly, who is credited with shouting these words to his men, just before charging the Germans. It is reputed that Daly was twice offered a commission, and that he responded, on both occasions, that he would “rather be an outstanding sergeant than just another officer.”

I was well schooled by my nearest and dearest, over the course of about forty years, on the unique position enjoyed by the word “outstanding” atop the United States Marine Corps hierarchy of merit. And I have a sense that the soon-to-be Sergeant Major was using the adjective correctly in reference to himself. He is one of only seven Corps recipients of two Medals of Honor (there are nineteen such across all the service branches), and he and Major General Smedley D. Butler are the only two Marines to have been awarded their Medals for separate actions, in different years.

Unsurprisingly, there’s a bit of the fog of battle about the origin of the quote itself. Some claim that those weren’t exactly Daly’s words, that they were either even more salty, or slightly less so; others say that, perhaps, they were shouted by someone else. Still others say that a similar cry was first given breath by Frederick the Great, at the Battle of Kolin in 1757.

Regardless (or irregardless, as the case may be), the words have passed into legend as recorded here, and will forever be associated with Sergeant Daly and Belleau Wood.

As to the question put forth in today’s quote: I doubt that most of the (overwhelmingly) young men in the woods that fine, hot, summer’s day had thoughts of immortality on their mind. I daresay most of them were thinking of their mothers, their sweethearts, and their loved ones, praying that they’d be able to keep their heads down and their powder dry, and just hoping that they’d live long enough to go home at the end of it all.

But duty and country called, and that dream died along with almost two thousand of the American men in Belleau Wood, while the lives of the eight thousand wounded would never be the same. The United States Marine Corps suffered more casualties during the three-week battle than it had in its entire history to that point, and its exploits there have passed into legend.

When it was over, Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels wrote:

“In all the history of the Marine Corps there is no such battle as that one in Belleau Wood. Fighting day and night without relief, without sleep, often without water, and for days without hot rations, the Marines met and defeated the best divisions that Germany could throw into the line.

The heroism and doggedness of that battle are unparalleled. Time after time officers seeing their lines cut to pieces, seeing their men so dog tired that they even fell asleep under shellfire, hearing their wounded calling for the water they were unable to supply, seeing men fight on after they had been wounded and until they dropped unconscious; time after time officers seeing these things, believing that the very limit of human endurance had been reached, would send back messages to their post command that their men were exhausted.

But in answer to this would come the word that the line must hold, and, if possible, those lines must attack. And the lines obeyed. Without water, without food, without rest, they went forward – and forward every time to victory.”

Finally, on June 26, Major Maurice Shearer of the Third Battalion, Fifth Marines, declared that victory unequivocally, by submitting a report to HQ stating simply, “Woods now U.S. Marine Corps entirely.” Four days later, General Jean Marie Joseph Degoutte, commander of the Sixth French Army, issued a general order that, going forward, Bois de Belleau would be known as Bois de Brigade de Marine, the “Woods of the Marines.” And the battle for those woods is recognized as one of the most important turning points of the “war to end all wars” for its role in thwarting a last-ditch German push towards Paris.

One hundred-two years later, we give thanks for those men yet again. Because they do live forever, in the hearts and minds of free men and women everywhere. God bless them, and all like them, those who have come before or since. Thank you.

From the USMC Archives, Belleau Wood, Summer 1918. The inscription on the photograph reads “Every tree in Belleau Wood bears the scars of battle.”

The United States commemorates the battle and the losses incurred by the United States forces every year, but a special ceremony was held on Memorial Day, 2018, in observation of its one-hundredth anniversary.

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