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Why Mocking The Marines At Belleau Wood Is A Blood Libel

The president of the United States mocked the late John McCain's torture by the Vietnamese, smirked at the 50,000 who died in Vietnam when he would not risk himself, and generally spat on the American military he has used as a stage prop for four years.

But he did something even worse. He called those who fell wearing the nation's uniform "suckers" and "losers." The Atlantic reported all the hideous details, and Donald Trump has found no way to refute what he has said. Generals heard him say it.

This was not merely a mistake. It was a mortal sin by a man who has committed far too many with no consequences.

But it's even worse.

When Trump refused to visit Belleau Wood's nearby cemetery in 2018 because rain might spoil his hairdo and besides only "suckers" were buried there, he managed to become immortal for his stupendous ignorance.

He does not know this sin, or acknowledge it. He cannot ask for forgiveness.

What's the worst of ignorance? We have found it. He laughed at dead soldiers for being dead.

More specifically, he mocked the U.S. Marine Corps and the 1,800 of them buried barely 60 miles east of Paris.

As the witness replied to red-baiter Joe McCarthy's callous cruelty, perhaps we all now may have found our "At long last sir, do you have no decency?" moment. Maybe this is the moment when we all decide that some insults and distortions cannot be forgiven, ignored or rationalized.

This is not communication "style." It is vile indifference and some evil even more deeper and insidious.

Calling Marines "suckers" for dying at Belleau Wood is a blood libel to all Marines who have spilled plenty of blood to save all of us. It is a blood insult to the nation.

The blood Marines spilled that June in France is sacramental and holy. But it's clear that Trump does not understand either the motive and character of those who died, or why we should honor them, except as a PR stunt.

They likely saved France that month in 1918. They might have saved Western civilization, at least until they had to do it all again with Adolf Hitler.

All they had to do was what we always ask of them. Be our heroes, and die.

The chances are that almost no one other than a Marine knows precisely what Belleau Wood was. We are a nation of amnesiacs. To many Americans, it's just another old forgotten name of a forgotten battle in an old forgotten war.

But the entire nation of France remembers.

The French do not call the old hunting preserve Belleau Wood anymore. They renamed it "Bois de la Brigade de Marine" ("Wood of the Marine Brigade") in honor of the Marines. They awarded the Fourth Marine Brigade and its 5th and 6th Marine Regiments the Croix de guerre, their highest award.

It was not for one Marine, but all of them.

Though the Marines have compiled centuries of heroism and valor - it's their business - Belleau Wood and June 1918 stand at the spiritual center of their history. The Marines were introduced to modern industrialized warfare that month.

No other time, or place, or set of horrific conflicts so splendidly places the Marines Corps in sharper clarity. It remains who the Marines are now.

The Corps has used Belleau Wood's lessons to shape its heroism at Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, and Fallujah.

Its spirit was forged.

Words were shouted that month by soldiers facing death from massed machine fire that still stand as the heart of the Corps' legacy.

When told to retreat by an experienced French officer, Capt. Lloyd W. Williams replied, "Retreat, hell! We just got here!" He commanded the 51st Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. Williams would die in Belleau Wood nine days later, blinded by gas and eviscerated by German shrapnel.

When they charged the machine guns, Gunnery Sergeant Daniel Daly yelled at this platoon, "Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?"

Daly won the Medal of Honor twice and was nominated for a third. One Marine, Gunnery Sergeant Fred Stockham, was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for giving his gas mask to a wounded comrade whose mask had been shot off. Stockham then died of gas poisoning.

That's who the president mocked.

In spring 1918, the vast American military had not yet arrived in France. It was coming in full force, and the Germans knew it. They threw dozens of fresh divisions at the front after Russia quit fighting hoping to overwhelm the British and French allies, take Paris and make the Yanks' arrival moot.

It almost worked. But the Marines essentially stopped the surge at Belleau Wood, the Marne River, Ch√Ęteau-Thierry, and Hill 142.

It was nonstop brutality. Point-blank artillery, poison mustard gas, machine guns, pistols, bayonets and hand-to-hand. Exploding shells splintered the trees, and swelled the ground with deadly wood splinters and metal shrapnel.

The Marines stood and fought.

No one escaped it. No one ran.

The Marines held their ground everywhere along the front.

It was the single, grandest month of bravery the nation can remember or honor.

Every minute of that month is etched in the soul of every Marine. Those minutes and every drop of blood the minutes cost are taught to Marines as part of their instruction.

Marines learn not only what they must do, but why. They learn about Belleau Wood.

The knowledge has the weight and significance of Scripture.

When the battle at Belleau Wood was over, the ground was soaked with the blood of nearly 10,000 American casualties, including more than 1,800 killed. The Marines suffered more casualties in that battle than it did in its entire history to that point. But Paris was safe.

That's who and what the president of the United States mocked.

In honor of that heroism, French President Emmanuel Macron used the occasion of his 2018 state visit to gift the United States with a sessile oak sapling. It came from Belleau Wood.

According to Le Monde, the oak sapling given by Macron died in required quarantine of natural causes.

There was no sign that President Trump knew about Belleau Wood, and what the 5-year-old tree's spiritual significance was.

Or why, most profoundly, anyone would honor the "suckers" who paid for it.


David Rutter is the former publisher/editor of the Lake County News-Sun, and more importantly, the former author of the Beachwood's late, great "The Week In WTF" column. His most recent piece for us was Shtupping America. You can also check him out at his Theeditor50's blog. He welcomes your comments.


Posted on September 9, 2020

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