Oise-Aisne is the second largest American military cemetery in Europe with 6,012 burials. Most died fighting in the area around here – this particular ground was fought over by the US 42nd Division – in 1918. The graves are laid out in four plots which front a large rose-colored sandstone memorial. There is a chapel with a carillon along with a map room showing the operations of the American forces in the area flank the memorial. Among the many buried here is the Catholic poet Joyce Kilmer who as a sergeant at the age of 31 fell in the fighting near Belleau. A member of the 42nd Division, Kilmer’s best known work is “Trees” – “I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a tree ….
Poems are made by fools like me
But only God can make a tree.”
While visiting the Oise-Aisne Cemetery, we were very fortunate to meet up with the Superintendent, Jeffrey Aarnio. Besides walking us around the cemetery, showing us some of the men and stories that lie there, we had a long and interesting conversation on the subject of how country’s remember the experience of war and death in general.
The US 26th Division is known as the Yankee Division made up as it was by primarily National Guardsmen from Massachusetts and adjoining New England States. The 26th Division saw action here capturing Belleau village. To help remember that achievement, the veterans association of the 26th Division managed to gather up enough money to rebuild the village’s destroyed church by the end of 1928. You can borrow a key to get inside from the superintendent of the next-door American Aisne-Marne Cemetery. Inside you can see stained glass windows showing Washington and Lafayette, as well as memorial tablets with the names of the 2,700 men of the division who fell in the battles the division fought here in France.
Laid out in a sweeping curve, the cemetery lies at the foot of Belleau Wood and holds 2,289 American soldiers’ graves with 251 unknowns. Most of the dead resulted from the battles in the immediate area during the summer of 1918. Amongst the graves you can notice many of the Marines who died in the desperate woods behind the cemetery as well as their Army comrades. A beautiful memorial chapel stand at the center of the curve and is decorated with carved heads of various Allied soldiers. Inscribed inside on the chapel walls are the names of some 1,060 men who went missing in the battles here. There is one Medal of Honor winner buried among the many here, LTJG Weedon Osborn who was a Navy dentist. Medical personnel accompanying the Marine Corps are all attached from the Navy, as was Osborn. He did not win his medal serving as a dentist but was killed acting as a stretcher bearer on 6 June 1918 as the counterattacks at Belleau Wood began in earnest. Osborn is surely the only serving dentist who has won the Medal of Honor, however.
The Germans nicknamed the Marines the “Teufel Hunde” or “Devil Dogs”. With such a nickname, the Marines erected this fountain known as the Bulldog Fountain. It is one of the focal point for any Marine Corps visitor to the sites around Belleau. Located on the grounds of the Chateau de Belleau de Beaucaron, the Countess allows visitors though you have to get a key for the gate from the superintendent at the nearby Aisne-Marne American Cemetery. For Marines, it is said that they get an extra twenty years of life if the drink from the fountain. Oooh – Ahh!