The titles given to this war says much about the people at that time. The first two titles are pre-World War Two. There is nothing great about any war. Wars happen because of the failures of politicians. The failures of politicians decide when wars begin and end. As General Patton once said, politicians always pull us up short and leave us with another war to fight. World War Two gave us over 45 years of Cold War. A war that was not cold and brought us to the brink of world wide nuclear war on more than one occasion.
World War One was seeded forty years earlier at the end of the Franco Prussian War. The French were dealt with so severely at the end of that war it made another French German war inevitable. Just as the Germans were dealt with so severely at the end of World War One that it made another war inevitable.
There is nothing honorable or glorious about war, despite what politicians say when they are trying to start one.
General George S. Patton was a man of action, in war and peace. Whether he was commanding Third Army racing across France toward Berlin or the occupational governor of Bavaria after the war. I admire him for that. But when it comes to war the general and I are polar opposites. He loved war, I detest war.
The largest number of casualties in any war are civilians not military. I say civilians and not innocent civilians, because they are the ones who supported the politicians while they beat their war drums. They supported, cheered for, and even demanded war in some instances. They sent their children to fight the war, and when the war came to their neighborhood they either ran or fought back as best they could. No one is innocent when war comes, we all have blood on our hands.
By 1918 Germany had defeated Russia. Germany quickly moved all the armies on the eastern front to the western front and planned an all out battle designed to take Paris, defeat the allies, and end the war before the United States could get her soldiers on the field of battle. Germany failed at all three objectives.
The Battle of Belleau Wood was not an isolated battle. It was part of the offensive Germany initiated along the entire western front, from the sea in Belgium south across all of France to its southern borders.
The American forces had arrived in France more than six weeks before this offensive began. The marines were the first to arrive. The French had been training the Americans for combat since their arrival, and thought very poorly of their ability to fight.
Next week we will discuss the Battle of Belleau Wood itself. You will hear the officers memorable words. You will hear the machine guns.
You will see the courage of the young boys in arms and hear their crys. You will see the scary, impossible goal at the beginning of the battle, and watch these boys as they will accomplish it. In some cases you will watch as the legends of Belleau Wood happen. In some cases you will watch as legends dissolve into myth. You will be there.
But between now and then I want you to do something first. I want you to find a photograph of a young person killed in war, preferably from World War One (a member of your own family if you can).
As we read next week’s article I want you to have that photograph with you. I want you to think about that young person while we watch the Battle of Belleau Wood.
That young person made mistakes and had triumphs in such a short life. They had dreams, aspirations, and goals for a future that never happened. They never got to guide their children into adulthood and know the joys of grandchildren.
That young person died so young that they left few to remember and mourn them. In most cases only parents.
Robert E. Goodykoontz left behind a mother and a brother who mourned his loss for the rest of their lives. He left behind no one of his own. No one to remember his smile or the sound of his laugh, no wife, no children. There is not even a photograph of Bob to show he really lived. All that is left is a cold marble stone in a foreign land to mark his grave and a few short words on the web stating his regiment, division, and place of death.
The only thing left was the grief in the eyes of his younger brother. A grief that persisted for over half a century.
War is not honorable, war is not glorious, war is a thief. Next week we will watch the thief at his worst.
Part one “Grandfather, Bob, My Daughter, and France”
Part three “The Battle of Belleau Wood”
Part four “The U.S. Army at the Battle of Belleau Wood”