We’ve done so much marching and riding over the past 48 hours, I’m not sure exactly where we are at the moment. Besides I have a hard time pronouncing the names of these towns. As long as I see signs pointing to Paris, I’ll assume we are still in Paris. All I know is we are moving to a place called Belleau Wood. I hear the Germans there really pushed our French brothers hard and so we are going there to push back.
This morning I saw a frightful thing. There were wagons of men and bodies being pulled through our lines on their way to the nearest town. Hopefully they will make it on to Paris. The bodies lay stacked, wooden and silent. The men, between dying and dead, lay next to each other. Some were moaning, some were crying, others just stared out toward the sky.
I heard an officer yell to those giving them attention to concern themselves with the “very hurt” only.
I imagined the men, the ones who did not fall in this officer’s category, were surprised to hear they were not “very hurt.”
I don’t want you to worry yourself reading this. The hardest fighting took place before we got here on 3 and 4 June. I am proud to tell you we will be moving out tomorrow (on the 6th). I am both nervous and excited. Besides, I can’t take another day of drill and marching! I have been looking for the opportunity to see action and test my mettle. I know you do not like it when I write about these things but the day is upon us my dear. We are Marines now remember?
I hear there are wheat fields near Belleau Wood. I thought to myself after being told of them, what an irony! I grew up on wheat fields. Uncle Sam pulled me from Nebraska and sailed me across the big Atlantic to see another one! I doubt they are as large as the ones we have there though, my dear.
Well goodbye love. I will write to you as soon as I have another opportunity. Please continue to send me letters as you find the time. I hope Nebraska is beautiful as I know you like it during June.
P.S. Please tell my folks I will write to them soon. Tell mother I received her last letter dated 14 May. Give Lloyd my best and inform him he is in my prayers. How is Birdie? Does she still not like to eat?
Your own Thomas
June 5, 1918
Second Division’s Marine Corps, under James Harbord, were tasked with the taking Belleau Wood. This perilous venture involved a murderous trek across an open wheat field, swept from end to end by German machine gun fire, a fact that continues to generate controversy today among some historians.
As a consequence of the open nature of the advance on the wood, casualties on the first day, 6 June 1918, were the highest in Marine Corps history (a dubious record which remained until the capture of Japanese-held Tarawa in November 1943).