Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Robert B. Neller, gets water from the Devil Dog fountain after the American Memorial Day ceremony at the Aisne-Marne American Memorial Cemetery, Belleau Wood, France, May 29, 2016. Each Memorial Day weekend, U.S. Marines, French service members, family members and locals gather to honor the memory of the Marines killed during the battle of Belleau Wood. (U.S. Marine Corps photo illustration by Staff Sgt. Gabriela Garcia/Released)
Ninety-eight years after Marines blunted a massive German offensive at the Battle of Belleau Wood and earned their "Teufel Hunden" sobriquet, the commandant paid homage to the fallen at one of the most sacred sites of Marine Corps lore.
On Memorial Day weekend, Gen. Robert Neller recently undertook the pilgrimage to the Devil Dog Fountain in the village of Belleau, France. In nearby Belleau Wood over the month of June 1918, Marines with the 5th and 6th Regiments infamously repulsed a German attack before taking to the offensive to drive them out of the woods.
The Marines, held in reserve, were called in to patch a hole in the lines from fleeing French soldiers. After a 6 mile forced march, the French pleaded with them to turn back, to which Capt. Lloyd Williams responded, "Retreat? Hell, we just got here."
For over more than 31 days, often with only bayonets and fists, the Marines fought through the better part of five German divisions with such ferocity that the enemy allegedly gave them the name "Teufel Hunden" — Devil Dogs — in admiration.
It was during this exhausting battle that then-Gunnery Sgt. Dan Daly led the men of the 73rd Machine Gun Company across a wheat field directly into enemy machine gun fire with the words, "Come on, you sons of b----itches, do you want to live forever?"
The "Teufel Hunden" moniker, however, is more mythology than fact, as Marine Corps Times’ reporter Jeff Schogol previously reported in Stars and Stripes.
"The term very likely was first used by Marines themselves and appeared in print before the Battle for Belleau Wood," Bob Aquilina of the Marine Corps History Division told Schogol at the time. "It gained notoriety in the decades following World War I and has since become a part of Marine Corps tradition."
While the origin of the notorious term of endearment may be dubious, the Devil Dogs’ sacrifice in that bloody battle is not; the Marines took over 9,000 casualties: 1,062 killed in action and 7,253 wounded, according to the U.S. Marine Corps History Division.
After the battle, the French army renamed Belleau Wood "Bois de la Brigade de Marine" in recognition of their heroism.
When Commandant Gen. Neller stepped to the pristine water flowing from the mossy mouth of the bull mastiff fountain May 29, it was also in memory of these Marines.