The village of Belleau is situated approximately ten kilometres to the west of the town of Château-Thierry in the Department of the Aisne.
From the town centre take the D 1003 in the direction of Meaux and the Monument Americain. At the top of the hill the road sweeps around to the left and you will see the entrance to the American Memorial. On your right you will see the junction for the D 9 indicating Étrépilly and Belleau.
Follow this road for seven kilometres. As you arrive at Belleau church you turn left along a road running up the side of the American Aisne/Marne Cemetery. It is sign posted Bouresches. 500 metres along it turn right and enter the wood.
Note that you cannot enter the wood from the American cemetery.
For a (very) short drive around the area of the battlefield leave by the other exit in the direction of Lucy-le-Bocage where you will find a US 2nd Division memorial stone. Now follow the road to Bouresches turning left into Rue du Lieutenant Osborne. This will bring you back out to the main Belleau Road: turn left to regain the cemetery.
On 27th May 1918 the Germans launched their third offensive of their Spring Offensive (The Kaiserschlacht) which smashed its way through the French and British held lines along the Chemin des Dames (The scene of terrible fighting by the French in 1917)
Following a whirlwind bombardment lasting three hours seventeen German Divisions penetrated the French lines held by just six Divisions. Within four days the Germans had advanced about fifty kilometres and reached Château-Thierry and the river Marne.
On 3rd June the tired French attempted a counter attack. In itself it achieved little in the way of territorial gains, but the German reserves were now exhausted as well. As the US 2nd Division took over the line that evening, the front had begun to stabilise.
In front of Torcy and Belleau Wood lay the 4th US Marine Brigade composed of the 5th and 6th Regiments US Marines.
On their right the 3rd Brigade stationed the 23rd US Infantry Regiment in the area of Le Thiolet and the 9th Regiment on the far the right flank in front of Vaux.
On 6th June 1918 the Americans launched their assault. That evening, against the village of Bouresches and the south of Belleau Wood, the Marines suffered terrible casualties whilst crossing a wheat field. By 2200 hours the village was in American hands but at great cost, with only a few dozen men left from 3/6th Marines to beat off constant counter attacks throughout the night.
In the popular consciousness it might be thought that the battle was quickly fought and won but in reality it was only on the morning of 26th June 1918 that Major Maurice Shearer of the 3rd Bn 5th Marines was able to declare:
“Woods now entirely—US Marine Corps”.
Every attempt made to advance or bring up reserves had been mercilessly gunned down by well positioned Germans. The 6th June 1918 has gone into the history books as the most bloody ever for the Marines with 1,087 killed or wounded in the space of twenty-four hours.
The centre piece is a bronze relief on black marble, at the base of the flag pole, sculpted by Felix de Weldon; who would also design the Marine Corps War Memorial in Washington DC (The famous scene of the flag raising over Iwo Jima).
Underneath is a commemorative plaque emblazoned with the USMC badge of an eagle, globe, and anchor.
Within the woods (to the left as you look at the monument) just a short distance away are a number of explanatory plaques explaining the events of the period.
A direction finger post literally points out just how close the Germans managed to get to Paris in what was to be their final offensive of the war.
If you walk down towards the cemetery, behind the memorial, in the woods to your left you will find a German field piece with its barrel blown open by an explosion.