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World War I Memorial

The detail that caught my attention was the number of Americans casualties suffered during the course of that battle immediately north and northwest of  the town of Verdun, France: 122,063.  26,277 were KIA and 95,786 were WIA.  Those numbers are stunning in every sense of the word.

The American units that were engaged in that battle were part of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF).  Specifically they were from the U.S. First Army commanded by General John J. Pershing until October 16th, then by General Hunter Liggett to the battle's end.  They were opposed by approximately forty German divisions from the Army Groups of the Crown Prince and General Max Carl von Gallwitz.  The largest commitment of German troops were from the Fifth Army of Group Gallwitz commanded by General Georg von der Marwitz.

The battle is memorable for many reasons.  It was the largest victory of the AEF in WWI, but at what a cost!

The battle was a very complex operation.  It's objective was to take a railroad hub in the town of Sedan, France.   The Germans had spent the last four years fortifying the town against such an effort.  This railroad hub was the centerpiece of the German supply line system in France and Flanders.

The maneuvers that were made by the AEF were staggeringly large.  The majority of the AEF had to be moved to new positions that would stretch for some thirty miles from east to west across the new front.   The size of this effort alone was incomprehensibly difficult and done with incredible speed under the logistical and planning genius of then Col. George C. Marshall.  This would establish his reputation and would eventually bring him some 25 years later to lead American forces to victory in WWII.

The battle was begun with an artillery barrage of 2700 guns on September 26th.  There were 10 American divisions made up of about 26,000 men each organized into 3 corps.    The battle involved huge attacks and counterattacks by both sides over the course of the next six weeks.  It would include huge losses on both sides with back and forth successes and failures.  It would include the long suffering and devastating losses of the Lost Battalion, which was surrounded and mercilessly pounded by the German forces.  The Americans were offered a chance to surrender but were answered by the now famous retort, "Nuts!"  It was here too that the Medal of Honor winner, Sgt. York, of the 82nd division, won that award wiping out 35 machine guns and capturing 132 German soldiers as part of the relief operation.

This monumental battle finally ended on November 11, 1918 when the German Marshall Foch sent his armistice instructions, which arrived at 0600 in the morning of that day.  Some of the army "doughboys" and Marines did not hear about it until about noon that day.

It is this battle and the armistice that was agreed to on November 11, 1918 that we still celebrate every November 11th as Veterans Day now.  It is only recently that the last WWI active duty survivor died.   The memorial in the town of Montfaucon, France, was dedicated to those Americans who fought and died in that battle on this day, August 3, 1937, 75 years ago.  Though it seems so far in the past, it is good to remember those who fought and died 94 years ago in the forests and fields of France.   They died to keep Europe free from the first German attempt to establish domination over its neighbors in the 20th century.  Many of them and more of their sons would have to do it all over again in WWII, a mere 32 years later.

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