The Belleau Wood Pilgrimage
Even with going to sleep late the night before, my wife and I were ready to tackle the day. The sun was out and it was simply beautiful. We were tempted to stay another day in France, but our hotel reservations in Luxembourg were non-refundable. We checked out of the hotel and made our way over to the American Cemetery at Belleau Wood. I previously visited the Cemetery about 20 years ago, and the conditions were polar opposite from today. Back then, it was cold, wet, and rainy. Completely miserable. Today the sun was shining with few clouds out. For the non-Marine Corps readers, visiting Belleau Wood, for a Marine, is really a pilgrimage. From a historical point of view, it was just one in a string of attack/counter-attack battles during WW I. For a Marine though, it was really where the Corps proved to the world its fighting prowess. We drove along the road, taking in the fields around us and made a left hand turn into the Cemetery. Just the drive from the gates to the parking area was remarkable. Gorgeous pink flowers in bloom and the grass manicured to perfection. For an American battlefield cemetery, it was in the exact condition that it should be.
Brooke and I made our way to the central chapel and walked along the stark white grave markers. We took the path behind the chapel for another exceptional view. There was another part of the area that had a locked gate, requiring us to return to our car and drive around. Once we arrived, we were basically in a “gun” park. It showed a variety of the mortars and artillery pieces used during that time period. We then strolled down another trail that led us to a number of plaques describing the timeline of the unfolding battle. We laughed as we came across one that was donated by my class of Marine Officers nearly 20 years ago. I of course had seen all this before…and I was itching to find some of the dozen caches in the area! Brooke allowed me to go off trail a couple of times and then it was time to head back to the car.
Devil Dog Fountain
The other “attraction” that Marines simply cannot leave without visiting is the “Devil Dog” Fountain. It is a very quick drive, just down the road from the Cemetery. The mastiff head fountain somehow made its way into the mythology of the Marine Corps and the cool, clear water is how the village of Belleau (“Good water”) got its name. We approached the farm where the fountain is and quickly noticed a gate. A locked gate. I checked Google Maps to ensure I had the right location…and I did. The search for another way in commenced. I quickly went around the compound and at the back, noticed the gate was, well broken and open. In I went and quickly found my prize. I returned and told Brooke to quickly follow me…I was still unsure if someone lived here and were potentially trespassing. We quickly entered the back of the compound, drank from the fountain, taking photos of course, and filled a container to bring back to the States with us. Once back in the car, I noticed a gentlemen walking around, seemingly looking for something. I noticed that he had a red lanyard around his neck. Suspecting he was a Marine veteran, I asked if he needed help. He said he was looking for the fountain…and he had the key to the gate! Turns out, you can check out the key at the Cemetery. I showed him where it was, took his photo as he drank and gave him a lift back to the Cemetery. Marines help Marines.
Flying the Drone
One of the goals I had while visiting the Cemetery was to seek permission to fly my drone for some footage. I know the staff in the Marine Corps Association and Foundation, and told them I was going over. I had asked if they would like any footage, which of course they delightfully accepted.
Finding the right person that could approve my request ended up taking a great deal of time. The security guard referred me to a staff member that was currently walking around and providing a tour to other visitors. Once she arrived, and I explained my request, she let me know that while she would like to, she could not authorize it. Of course, this was the one day the Cemetery Superintendent had off and despite his house being 10 meters away, she was reluctant to disturb him. Perhaps the Head Gardener, as the second in charge, could approve it. He was called and eventually made his way over. I was prepared to provide an impassioned plea, but once he heard what I wanted to do, and who it was for, he immediately granted my request. All the waiting had paid off! Brooke and I then spent the next hour filming, using up all of my drone batteries in the process. We filmed the road from the gates to the Chapel and then the Chapel itself from multiple angles. Then we tried to capture the Cemetery in its entirety. I flew to the maximum altitude of 120 meters and still could not take in everything at once. Well, we did our best, and while we were hot, hungry and tired, the footage was worth it.