1918 Seventy-five Years Ago

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On May 28 Gen. Robert Lee Bullard’s 1st Division joined the 1st French Army in its battle against the powerful German drive on Paris. American soldiers had done their first fighting at Seicheprey a month before; now, after two back-and-forth days fighting under German artillery fire, they had their first clear success in France. They held the town of Cantigny, but at a cost of more than a thousand casualties.

Cantigny was heartening to people back home and boosted sales of Liberty Bonds, but it was quickly put in perspective by the U.S. Marines’ battle for Belleau Wood, which began in June. Readers had some premature good news early in the fight when the American reporter Floyd Gibbons published his highly specific account of the ongoing battle before losing his left eye to a bullet on June 6. His story, which ordinarily might have been held by censors in Paris, made its way to the American newspapers on the strength of a rumor that he had been killed and the dispatch was his last. Gibbons survived and later became known for his eye patch.

The German army and U.S. Marines fought over the square-mile patch of trees and boulders at Belleau Wood for nearly two weeks, and the Marine Brigade suffered ninety-five hundred casualties in the bloody struggle for the forest before finally prevailing on June 25.