Monday, 27 August 2012

Meuse Argonne WWI

Our last stop before heading home was to visit the Meuse Argonne forest where the Americans fought.  However, on the way out of Verdun we stopped to visit what the French call a "Destroyed Village".  There were nine villages in the Verdun area that ceased to exist after the First World War.  The village we visited was Fleury Devant Douaumont which as a community of 422 people mostly of agriculture and woodworking.
The village was completely obliterated and so much unexploded ammunition was in the soil that it was too dangerous to rebuild the village.   It was also decided that the ground could not be recovered for agriculture use.  So the French planted trees and left it as a reminder of the war.  It might be hard to see but the ground is littered with shell craters.  There were signs everywhere telling people not to venture off the paths.  It was extremely sobering to see how the artillery had first reduced the buildings to dust, and then churned the soil into a lunar landscape of mud and bodies.

A memorial church was built.  Although the villages were not rebuilt, the French still keep them on their roster of actual villages, and all nine villages have a "mayor".

There are sign posts and paths telling the names of the streets in town

markers to point out where homes and business once existed

One of the pathways representing a street and a marker identifying someone's home

Before and after image of the town

Our first stop was to an American Monument Montfaucon.

Montfacon was the highest terrain in the Meuse-Argonne region, and was a key objective of the American assault.  Most people do not realize that the Meuse-Argonne battle was the largest, longest, and most bloody battle ever fought by the United States military.  The Americans claiming some 27,000 American lives in 47 days of fighting, with six separate days having a death toll greater than the well-known D-Day assault.  The saddest thing about this fighting is that this was part of the "Hundred Days Offensive" that drove the Germans to the point of capitulation, so most of the Americans who died in this battle died within weeks or days of the war.

I have always associated the red poppy for WWI but in our travels and learning about the War we discovered that in France the blue cornflower is the symbol for remembrance.  I looked everywhere for this little flower and on the last day I finally found it on our way to this monument.

An amazing monument.  There are 234 steps to reach the top and you get amazing views of the surrounding countryside

Behind this monument is a ruin church.

I loved the juxtaposition of these two pillars.  One of the old ruined church and the other of the American monument

Church grounds and there is evidence of German fortification throughout this area.

An old shelter that is unsafe to enter was just on the outer ridge of the church.
Our Next stop was the American Cemetery at Meuse Argonne
The cemetery is 130 acres and holds over 14,000 American graves...It is a beautiful place

View facing away from the cemetery towards the visitor center

Tree lined path between the grave sites

The rows of crosses lining the cemetery.

Kids putting down the blue corn flower we found at one of the graves.  We usually do this at an unknown soldier grave but we couldn't find one.  Later we found out we were in the wrong section and not only do they have a unknown soldier cross they also have a unknown soldier Star of David grave.  Since approximately one in six soldiers who were killed in the war were Jewish, one in six of the Unknown Soldier graves are marked with Stars of David.  In addition, the WWI Unknown Soldier who rests at Arlington National Cemetery originally was one of the unknown soldiers resting in this cemetery.

We always look out for the Medal of Honors and then read about them in the visitor center.  Freddie Sowers was an Afircan-American corporal leading his men on an attack on a hill.  Despite being wounded and under machine gunfire encourage his men to continue the fight to take the hill until he died.  Unfortunately, he was not awarded the Medal of Honor until 70 years after his feats of bravery, but his sister was still alive to receive his medal from President George H.W. Bush.

The main cemetery building

Inside the chapel

We noticed there were several graves with the dates of Nov 10 or 11th the day the war ended.  We asked the visitor  center why this was.  We were told that there were still many skirmishes held the last hours of the war with both sides trying to get rid of ammunition that they had, and for recently-arrived soldiers to get their chance for the "glory of battle".

One story told to us was a German officer looking over the trenches seeing an American group of soldiers getting ready to attack.  He rode across no mans land with a white flag and told the American officer that he and his men did not wish to engage in battle and that in less than 5 hours the war would be over and the Americans could have the trench without bloodshed.  However should the American decide to fight, the Germans would defend their position, and more men would die.  Thankfully the Americans decided not to attack.

We also saw numerous graves from well after the war ended.  It was explained to us that many men also perished in the Spanish Influenza Outbreak that struck near the end of 1918, killing more people than the war had in four years of fighting.

From the Visitor center looking onto the main portion of the Chapel.  
 The gentleman at the visitor center was a wealth of knowledge and took time to answer our questions.  He recommended that my husband and I read (which we are doing) the book "To Conquer Hell" by Edward Lengel.

Throughout our trip I read the book "The War to End All Wars" by Russell Freedman to the children in the car while driving to the various battlefields.

I can recommend both books to you if you are interested in more information about WWI


  1. Such bloodshed! I had no idea how many people died in WWI. I am glad the Americans agreed not to fight the Germans for the trench. The German officer was brave to do that and I'm glad that he spoke German or the Americans spoke English or whatever it took to save those two small groups of soldiers.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing the pictures of your adventure and the information that you gathered. I have loved these history posts especially because my Grandfather was killed in France. I do have letters that he wrote to his mother during that time and I am going to look through them again. You have inspired me to get them copied soon. They are written in pencil and are somewhat hard to read.
    Again, thank you for these posts; I have learned so much. Also, thanks for the book reccomendations. It is so sad to see so many white crosses. The number of all those that lost their lives is astounding.
    Blessings to you for another awesome post.