tv American Artifacts WWI Centennial Chateau- Thierry Belleau Wood CSPAN August 31, 2018 9:32am-10:19am EDT
that live in the area. hopi people might come here to do ceremonies and pay homage to their ancestors because they believe their ancestors are still here so this is still a very important site for many people in the southwest. >> watch c-span cities tour of flagstaff, arizona, saturday at 7:00 p.m. eastern. on c-span2's book tv. and sunday at 2:00 p.m. eastern on american history tv on c-span3, working with our cable affiliates as we explore america. this labor day weekend, american history tv on c-span3 has three days of featured programming, starting saturday at 8:00 p.m. eastern with lectures in history as colorado state university pueblo professor matt harris discusses the anti-slavery movement before the civil war. sunday at 10:00 a.m. on oral histories our women in congress series continues with former
democratic congresswoman barbara kenly. then at 8:00 p.m., a look at the relationship between george washington and alexander hamilton and the historical accuracy of "hamilton" the musical. and on monday at 8:00 p.m., the white house historical agency's presidential site summit. up next on american artifacts, we travel to northeastern france to trace the steps of american soldiers during the spring and early summer of 1918. but first, a portion of a 1960 u.s. army film that describes the military situation at the time. >> the germans rolled across the defenses and the aine river in a driving relentless force which struck panic into the french nation. in three days, the german tide had reached the river and was less than 40 miles from paris. the second and third u.s.
divisions were moved into the area around chateau-thierry. the third division, in its battle for the crossings, wrote one of the most brilliant pages of our military annals. one of its regiments earned the proud designation, rock of the marnes. the second division began pushing the germans back. u.s. marines, fighting with the second division, reclaimed important ground in a fierce contest known to history now as the battle of belleau wood. >> american history tv visited key monuments, battlefields, and cemeteries in northeastern france with historian mitchell yockelson. to begin the story, we visit the chateau-thierry monument about 60 miles from paris to learn why
u.s. forces were in the region and how they helped the french. >> directly behind me is the chateau-thierry monument. we are on top of hill 204. 204 means that the hill is 204 meters high. the significance of this monument is to honor the american troops who fought in this sector. aine is one of the rivers, marne the other. there was significant engagement in between the two rivers from the end of may through the middle of july of 1918. the chateau-thierry monument is being restored in honor of the world war i centennial taking place for the american contribution from 2017 to 2018. on the opposite side of the monument from where i'm standing are statues of two women, one american, one french, who are holding hands in honor of their sons, brothers, uncles, and
fathers who risked their lives here in the aisne-marne and particularly the chateau-thierry area during the war. the monument was dedicated in 1937. ♪ >> it's one of three significant american monuments on the western front that's established by the american battle monuments commission and remains under their guidance. the monument itself on the top lists some of the villages that the americans liberated. below that are the divisions, ten of them, plus two corps, the first and the third, that were actively engaged in this area. that includes belleau wood and directly in front of me, chateau-thierry. the city of chateau-thierry had been largely untouched during the war, including the september
1914 first battle of the marne. however, that would change on may 31st, 1918, when german troops broke through the french lines, penetrated past rheims in hopes of crossing the marne river at chateau-thierry and heading directly to paris. the french were in a panic and concerned that they had -- didn't have enough troops to block the germans. so, they contacted general pershing and asked for his help. pershing at this point had been fighting desperately to keep the americans as an independent unit, hoping to form his own independent first army at some point by the end of the summer. but he recognized the perilous situation and he offered the french two divisions which were in a training area not far from paris. one was the 2nd division, the other was the 3rd division. an american division at that time was a little more than
27,000 officers and men. that was twice the size of the french and even the german forces, and the british forces. the 2nd division headed in the direction of belleau wood while the 3rd division headed directly to chateau-thierry. leaving first on may 30th was the 7th machine gun battalion, a motorized unit attached to 3rd division. they left the area around france, headed on highways that were packed with civilians who knew that the germans were in the vicinity and threatening paris. the roads were clogged. it was difficult for those troops to get to the chateau-thierry area. further troubling their efforts were the fact that they were driving forward trucks and vans, not the detroit, michigan, variety but ones that had been made in england of lesser quality parts. they were described as flimsy
with having horrible tires that along the trip, which took 22 hours to reach an area nearby here, the tires would often go flat and the troops would have to stop and change the tires. but eventually, they made it and the 7th machine gun was shifted along the river bank of the marne at chateau-thierry where they helped the french, including colonial senegalese troops prevent the germans from crossing. >> the american monument on hill 204 can be seen from the city of chateau-thierry in the marne river valley. we moved our camera into the city near the river to continue the story. >> directly behind me is a monument in tribute to the 3rd division, not only for the first world war where they helped stop the germans from crossing the marne, but the 3rd division also penetrated this area during the second world war after the
normandy invasion and kept the germans from penetrating even further into the marne area. the grateful french placed this monument and keep it well protected in memory of the americans who were in this area in both world wars. there were two bridges that crossed over chateau-thierry. really, the only crossing points within five miles to get across the marne. the germans had sent some troops. they had fought the americans hand-to-hand here in the town but the 7th machine gun battalion was able to get across the river on the south side, opposite from where i'm standing, and block further penetration from the germans. the germans did make it into the north part of chateau-thierry, where they were engaged by the americans and the french. meanwhile, the french had placed detonations underneath the two bridges and blew them up, one on june 1st, the other on june 3rd,
preventing the germans from going any further and the americans were able to hold the germans back from further penetration. and after the battle, the 3rd division earned the well-deserved moniker of the rock of the marne. >> our next stop with mitch yockelson is about 6 miles from the town of chateau-thierry in belleau wood, the forest is on a hill above the aisne-marne cemetery. >> we are standing right in the heart of belleau wood, renamed after the battle which ended on june 26, 1918, the brigade of marine, by the french. the battle itself is iconic in marine corps history. there's no other world war i battlefield for the americans that is set up like a national
park service battlefield in the united states. in 1955, felix deweldon dedicated this monument that he designed. it's the archetype of a marine. he's looking tough with his shirt off. there were two regiments of marines that fought in this area, the 5th and 6th marines. they were part of the 2nd u.s. division, it was an army division. the marines probably had more experience than the army at the time of world war i. marines had been deployed around the world in the caribbean, but general pershing, the commander of the american expeditionary forces, didn't want the marines to be part of the aef. it took heavy lobbying by congress with help from secretary of the navy daniels, the commandant in the marine corps, finally pershing acquiesced and allowed two regiments, 5th and 6th marines,
became part of the 2nd division. they would make their stand here and suffer heavily over a month of fighting. during that period, they lost almost 10,000 wounded and killed, about 1,800 of those marines were killed. let's take a look at some of the areas that are -- show how the marines fought during that period of june 5th through june 26th of 1918. now we're heading towards one of the three isolated german artillery pieces. the one that i'm approaching is an 1896 model field gun that could fire everything from high shrapnel, shrapnel and gas. these guns are what wreaked havoc on the american and french troops who were trying to break through the woods. you see these field guns, which were really the workhorse of the german army throughout the western front, and the germans
were masters of the defense, and they used these when they were attacked, when the allies took the offensive towards them and caused significant casualties. what we have here is the workhorse of the french army, and the americans, for that matter. because this is the 75-millimeter artillery piece. this gun and many others like it were used throughout the western front by the french, and had been used as early as the 1870s and it was a valuable piece of machinery. for the americans. should be known that the americans didn't have their own artillery but relied on the french to provide artillery pieces in this part of the western front. not only the 75 but the 105 and the 110. artillery was used heavily during the battle of belleau wood, fired deep into the woods, which forced the germans to
scatter from their entrenched positions and allowed an opening which the 5th and 6th marines took advantage of. the marines launched an offensive, attack towards belleau wood. the americans are forced to go across hedges and heavy rows of whe wheat, which is now in full bloom in june. it will take another two weeks before the americans are able to penetrate to the south end of the woods and finally, on june 24th, a major thrust takes the marines through the woods, hand-to-hand fighting. on june 25th, the marines have penetrated deep into the woods, but the germans haven't fully retreated. finally, by that evening and into the next day, the 26th, the marines have full control of the woods. word is sent to fourth marine brigade commander general harbor and the marines now have been victorious. by the 26th, the marines have captured belleau wood and have prevented the germans from going any further in their offensive towards paris.
the field pieces that we see here and the other markers throughout the woods were placed in honor of the marines. this was, again, their iconic battle. certainly, before world war ii, when you know about the marines fighting in the pacific, the battle of belleau wood stood as the main marine corps battle for heroism and this was basically designed as a park to honor the marines who fought in this area. so, standing behind me is one of the icons of the belleau wood battle. you'll see this structure in many photographs, paintings, and other depictions of this landmark battle for the marines. it was an actual private hunting preserve owned by the count and countess of belleau. they would come out here from paris, hunt wild boar and other
animals. as you can see, the structure was heavily damaged and had been occupied by the germans and used as an observation post, and then american and french artillery had shattered it where it was no longer usable by the belleau family after the war. here you're looking at an artillery shell hole that had been fired by either the americans or the french. most likely using the 75-millimeter. to my right is a deep crevice, which is a german trench that they had constructed in late may when they started occupying belleau wood. it was through these trenches where the germans were well defended that the americans and with the french had to fire the artillery and eventually move forward with the machine gun rifles and hand-to-hand fighting to drive them deep from within the woods. along this path, besides where
the trench lines are and the artillery shells, the marine corps historical division had placed markers. the markers show the advance of the 5th and 6th marine regiments during the course of the battle to honor the sacrifices made during that almost month-long battle in june of 1918. we're heading through the 2nd division line on the battlefield and you can see how steep the hills are and how the troops of the 2nd division, including two regiments of marines, had to fight their way up this hill while being raked by german machine gunfire. of course, these trees that are here now would not have been here at the time. they would have all -- any foliage would have been completely decimated. this marker commemorates the
capture of belleau wood of june 26, 1918. finally, it was in american hands. the 2nd division insignia with the star was put up to show this was the 2nd division that reached this part of the line. i'm standing in one of the abandoned german trenches that had been raked by artillery fire. from june 26th, when belleau wood was firmly in american hands, the 2nd division troops stayed in this area and were able to have a line of sight across the valley to the farm which was occupied by the germans. the americans used this to observe the german movements across the valley from the le brusses farm as they started to attack chateau-thierry once again where they had been driven from early in june, but by july,
the americans had driven them once again from chateau-thierry and chateau-thierry was now back in american and french hands. >> the allies pressed the counterattack forward. by the end of july, the entire monsalient was removed. the initiative had passed to allied hands, dr where it would remain. >> eight u.s. divisions had participated in the successful counteroffensive and their performance had met their commanders' expectations and exceeded all others. bravo the young americans and a french dispatch reported that their victories had electrified the world. the doughboy had proved his mettle as a fighter.
>> as we head down the hill, we'll see the cemetery which includes many of the more than 1800 marines that were killed during the battle. meanwhile, there was a temporary cemetery up on this ridge and you can see what the cemetery looked like from this faded photograph there were wooden crosses that were marked by dog tags. each soldier in world war i, the first time dog tags were used, they were provided two of them. they were around their next on a lanyard and when a soldier was killed and buried. one of the dog tags was kept around his neck. the other was nailed to the wooden cross for later identification. but as we'll learn when we get to the cemetery, especially going to the chapel. there are more than 1100 names of soldiers and names of soldiers not just who had fought at belleau wood, but other areas
around the marne that are missing. we know these individuals and we know their units, but we don't know what happened to em this we can only assume that they were killed and buried in isolated graves that weren't found. 0or because of the heavy artillery shelling they were buried and never seen again. >> the remnants of belleau wood battlefield are on a hill above the a marne cemetery. mitchell yakleson visited the cemetery to talk with shane williams, a u.s. air force veteran who is employed as superintendent of the cemetery. >> i think it's important for american visitors to realize this is their taxpayer dollars at work overseas to tell the story of what took place here with the memory of the fallen. having said that, this is but 40%, the headstones you see here
are 40% of the those lives lost in this geographic region. it's not just the battle of belleau wood. that's what most people are probably surprised to understand here at the aigne-marne cemetery. primarily u.s. marine corps took over three weeks of bloody combat. they were relieved by u.s. troops who continued the fight. many 0 of whom fell on the fields just to my left here. so you've got a lot of stories here of u.s. marine corps, u.s. army, we have our navy medal of honor recipient buried just behind the camera here. so so many stories to tell. and we're just trying to find ways to make that connection with the visitor who has very limited time at these sites. >> how about the hilltop for the chateau thierry memorial?
is that under your direction as well? >> we manage the battlefield of belleau wood, about 200 acres of the original site of belleau wood and then we usually call it the chateau thierry monument. it's actual lay french-american monument the way it commemorates, built and maintained by the actually the american battle monuments commission. if you take a detailed look at the villages, the names of the villages inscribed on the monument and also why it was belt. it's commemorating the french and american soldiers who fought and died side by side in world war i. kind of an interesting way to show this franco-american history and in shared linkages back to 1918. >> you mentioned being on the belleau wood battlefield. some of the battlefield is marked, which is kind of unique for an american battlefield in france.
we're used to this in the united states through national park service sites like gettysburg and an tean tee tam. can you talk about why the battlefield is mark and why it's important for people to walk through it. >> going back the ma rebounds where they came through the field on 6 june 1918 to take a relatively small sector at a high cost. i've found when i go back stateside to national parks, is getting in touch with something that's physical. walking in the fitsteps of history. that's why i was pleased that in a very early 1920s, american visitors actually found belleau in preserving that site. if not for those american visitors who came over on these war tourism tours, perhaps that
battlefield would not be preserved as it is today. that's kind of another sidebar of history that had nothing at all to do with the american battle monuments commission at the beginning but it was deeded to maintain as it is today. that wasn't done until the 1930s. the belleau wood memorial association, thank you to those who have since passed on. came over with american money and purchased those woods in order to preserve it. >> was that deeded to the abmc? >> yes, it was deeded through the french ministry over to the american government for maintenance in per tupetuity. >> how many grave sites are there? >> here are honored over 3,000 men. but there are 2,289 burials and over 1,060 missing in action. their names are inscribed inside the memorial chapel. >> and so they could very well be buried in one of these unmarked plots?
>> in fact we do have 251 unknown soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines that may be, that are buried here. so about 10% of the burials are actually unknowns. their names are very likely on the wall here. but they could be on another wall or tablet of the missing at one of the other american cemeteries as well. >> i've seen in other cemeteries where since the wall was constructed, that some of those unknowns have actually been recovered. is that the case here? >> there have been. there are a total of seven of the 1,060 who have been found and identified since the wall was completed. the chapel was completed in 1930. so for those lisping out there who go to an overseas american cemetery, if you go to the tablet or the wall of the missing in he any of the abmc sites and you see a small bronze rosette next to the names, that means that the man or woman was found and identified. it doesn't mean they are buried at that site, but they're buried somewhere.
>> how does a abmc cemetery differ from a national cemetery such as arlington? >> shared challenges when we talk about maintenance and the way we make visitor. all of the american and women who are honored or buried at the overseas sites, they fell while serving their country overseas. somewhere. so these are, they're not specifically war cemeteries, because we have many men and women who have died of illness or accidents perhaps. but again, so that's the difference. where back in the states. at arlington or the national cemeteries that the veterans affairs ma s manages, those are eligible for spouses or dependants of the veteran as well. >> was this particular plot of land originally a temporary cemetery? >> yes. we're kind of sort of on the site of one of the temporary cemeteries, that actually ring the battlefield of belleau wood.
here just behind the camera, hopefully wheat go a shot of that was temporary cemetery 1764. there were over 2,000 actual burial sites/temporary cemeteries, post world war i. everything from an isolated burial to a temporary cemetery. a lot of history with the graves registration, labor betallians in building these sites out and the repatriation of about 60% of american war dead from world war i back to the states at request of family. at the government expense, but the family were given a choice of where to, whether to accept their loved ones' remains back for final burial in a private cemetery or national military cemetery or to keep them serving like the 2,289 here. >> and the burials, the temporary, was that right at the time of the battle? >> a lot of the guys, yeah, sure, they would have been buried off the battlefield burials, isolated burials. they would have attempt to bury the war dead, the fallen at a
temporary cemetery, if they could. that wasn't always possible. sometimes they would not have been found until after the battle was finished or even sometimes post-war, a lot of interesting history which is why just building sites out, they almost depart exist at the end of the day. there was a big push to bring all of the fallen home. and for multiple reasons, it was ultimately not the case where they all the families were given a choice and that's what you see here today. so this site could have easily been twice the size or could perhaps never have existed. >> when was the cemetery dedicated. >> the cemetery, just like the monument on hill 204 was not dedicated until 1937. there's a few reasons for that. one was they had to figure out how do they repatriate all of these war dead? this was done in the early 1920s. they needed to have within a few hundred final number of how many burials there would be at a permanent site. at that point we had to find
good architects, landscape architects and put plans together. a lot of thought went into how the cemetery site would be set up. as an example, this is one of actually nine world war i cemeteries, it is the only one i believe that actually has curvature in the plot. so each of the rows is actually curved. a lot of thought went into it, the types of trees. that's why 1937, the site was more or less completed by the mid 1920s. then they built the buildings, the chapel we talked about, 1930. 1937 is because the big american legion delegation came over. and that helped as well. especially at the hill 204 monument. >> do you know if general pershing came to the dedication? >> came to both. general pershing came to the dedication here at the cemetery and at the monument hill 204. >> this region is particularly interesting to americans. because here the first the final
advance of the enemy towards paris, may 1918, was stopped by the second and third american division. the second at belleau wood and the third at chateau thierry. >> belleau wood and the aigne-marne campaign are significant in world war i. 40-did the individual divisions or regiments commemorate that continuing today? >> each of the individual divisions, sometimes even a regimental size, they decide a different way to commemorate, as far as building monuments or putting plaques, to trace the path of where they advanced or perhaps where they trained before combat. a couple of examples here is the second division boulders, just over 30 throughout france that you can trace of the second division, of which the marines were half. i you can trace the footsteps through france at different
times so there's actually a couple of that surround the battlefield of belleau wood. on the flip side, the unit that relieved the marines after the battle of belleau wood, they decided to build but one monument. the village church of belleau wood which was largely destroyed when the 26th division took the village of belleau in july. so post-war they fund-raised and helped build the village church in a new location just outside of the gate of the cemetery. there's not just the cemeteries to discover, there's other sites of commemoration in memory that americans, 100 years ago, built. so they're available to i've got the key to the village church orky point you in the direction of the second division boulders, whatever, whatever you find of interest. but there's a lot of history here. >> shane, why don't you show us some of the grave markers that you're most familiar with? >> sure. right this way.
so i found this story, thanks to a family visitor. i happened to be working. it was the 11th april. which year, 2016. so about a year and a half ago. just over here, ludgar toissant. if i would have walked by his headstone on the 10th of april, the day before this visit, the day we're going to talk about. i would have been able to tell you he was a member of the 102nd machine gun battalion. the 26th division, the yankee division, that's the unit that relieved the marines here in belleau wood, from the state of vermont, he died on the 20th of july, 1918. i couldn't have told you much more than that about i can tell you a whole lot more and i could show you a photo of him now. thanks to the family visit, i happened to be here working. it was a weekend. two ladies and a man came through the gate from the state of ohio. but in fact, they came packing his story. their family, she was the great
niece and the great-great niece. and what was interesting is they had kept his letters, diary, photos, in the family. they made high-quality copies across and they kept his story alive. and if not for that family, also sharing with me, perhaps his story would be lost. so the family, that's an important connection. now i get to tell his story, a little bit about what he was thinking, what he was feeling, what he was doing. we can always guess what a young soldier, a young private from vermont, he had just celebrated his 20th birthday on the 5th of june, 1918. he lived only to be 20 years old. we can probably guess what most of these guys were thinking, they were thinking about going home. . how miserable they were, that they had to see this through. even if they agreed that yes, this is something we we've git to fight for, a common cause with our french allies. all of those things were true with ludger.
he couldn't wait to get home. he said i hope this is the final birthday i ever have to celebrate away from home. and as it were, he never got to use the return ticket that he was provided. he never lived to see past actually day three of combat here in the area. i know i use his story as an example. because he could have a similar story with a guy who is buried on his left or right. but i just don't know. with his letters, with his words, and i can look just down just past that red-tiled farm, and up the ravine to the right, he would have fallen somewhere right up there. just a 10, 15-minute walk from here. we can walk in 10 to 15 minutes and be in the area where he was killed. >> and that was after the battle of belleau wood is when the 26th division came in? >> exactly. he's one of those u.s. doughboys, not a marine, but a doughboy, who knew belleau wood as well. he would have relieved the marines here in early july.
had a couple of weeks to prepare defenses and then on the 18th of july, off they went on the big aigne-marne offensive to cave in the whole salient that the germans had taken over. ultimately successful, but ludger is one of many who fell in that area. >> it's important that you bring that up. many people who know something about belleau wood think that the battle completely ended on june 26th and that was it. but in reality, the fighting continued on through a good part of july. >> sure, and i'm careful to remind people that the marine who is fought and died, they had a very heavy casualty rate comaired to the size of their brigade. but on the left were french fighting and dying and on the right were the u.s. army. we keep in mind that the battle of belleau wood, an important pitched battle, but on the right, the third brigade u.s. army they were fighting to take villages to the right. they could see each other and will was some mixing between the
lines. i try to be fair and balanced, it's an important story to tell. but it's but one of many stories just here in the area. >> when i get especially when i get a group of marines, especially the young marines who come over, they make me feel old now, because i'm pushing 40 mimeself and some of these guys and gals are 19, 20 years old. but they're serving their country. i try to tell a story that i think would really fits for maybe where they are in their military career. so he's buried over this way. his name is walter cornell. most called him cornell. he was a member of the 6th recommendingment. killed day two of the battle here in belleau wood. but that's not really for me the interesting part of the story. that's the factual side of it. what was interesting is that gunner cornell, all of the young marines in his company, looked to him for leadership. u.s. marines at that point, it
was an all-volunteer force. most had never seen combat before. not this guy. this guy had been around the world -- literally. fighting under the flag. he had been in china, he had been all over the place, all these little islands, as the marine corps before 1917, again they were doing constable for ships and security, bayside, all of that. walter cornell's story for me or gunner cornell as he was known to the young marines, this his story for me is that he showed leadership in the first few days of combat when the young marines were looking to somebody for direction. looking for leadership. what it comes down to is he was a marine sniper. long-range rifle fire. very effective, he would come in every night and with more notches on the stock of his rifle. he had actually been injured relatively severely on the 6th of june. he was shot in the side and his
ear, part of his ear had gotten shot off. refused more than just the basic medical attention and went out the next morning on 7 june and they laid a box barrage over him. bombarded his position because they were taking heavy casualties. they knew he was a sniper. they never found out exactly how he died. but up to that point of his death he was looked to for leadership as at the end, many of the young marines said if they can't get cornell, they can't get us. and they all fought a little bit harder, the first few days of combat. and as you can see, he was awarded the dsc, the distinguished service cross and the navy cross. he's one of the more awarded here at the cemetery. he didn't last too long in france, just a couple of days in combat. >> you know i talk a lot about new englanders, because of the 26th division, the yankee division, new england national guard and also to let meme, to remind people that it was, was not just the u.s. marine corps fighting in this area.
now having said that, sometimes there were marines that came from massachusetts, so he was a nunger, and he's actually a marine, second lieutenant thomas ashley. young guy, mid 20s. he was actually killed pretty early in the battle for hill 142, he was a member of the fifth regiment marines, the regiment that took what is essentially the northern part of the battlefield of belleau wood. it was primarily the fifth regiment. he would have never seen belleau wood, not close up. because he didn't live long enough to get there. but he was, he was killed in taking out one of the german machine guns on hill 142. so it's not just belleau wood for the marine corps. the marine corps fought at lemiere farm, and hill 142 and at belleau wood. >> the gold star mothers pilgrimages, do you know when they came here to the cemetery? and it was before the cemetery was dedicated, right?
>> so yes, the gold star pilgrimages. another great part of american history that's i think largely lost. doesn't really get all of the play that i think it deserves. that the u.s. government first off gave the families of the fallen the choices we talked about. to bring their loved ones' remains home. for those who chose not to bring them home but chose to keep them overseas, they were provided the choice to come over in the early 1930s to visit their loved ones' headstone and visit the battlefield. laid a wreath usually at the arc d'triumpe in paris and do some shopping trips, others things that were nonwar related. over four different summers, 1930, through '33. i don't know how many ultimately came to this site but i hope i have my numbers right, 6,693, i think is the number. so just under 7,000 total women came over on that trip. interestingly enough, men were
not eligible. so they often call itted gold star mother pilgrimages. it was often mother who is lost their son. sometimes widows as well. mostly these guys never got a chance to marry. but if they had a widow, the widow was the one eligible. so the american abmc superinterceptedant at that point would have welcomed them in and taken them around. it was approximately three-week voyage from door to door on the -- a cruise liner. with nice table cloths and all of that. but it took a while to get here, that's where the three weeks wasn't really three weeks in-country. they were very careful to separate the groups out. a couple of different ways, we'll talk about that. is by this would be an aigne-marne group a for the year. always in the summer months, longer seasons, hopefully better weather. although in france you never know. they would have an a military
escort. a u.s. army escort with them during the stay to make them as comfortable as possible. interestingly, these are desegregated integrated sites. so there are black soldiers buried next to white soldiers, buried next to officers, all states, all -- many of them first-generation immigrants all of that my point in saying that is, there were gold-star groups of african-american women. so they were still sell gaited during their pilgrimages as well. so it's an interesting part of history that's, that needs to be told that they were still provided the ability to come over, but in fact they were still segregated at that point. when i talk about i might show during a guided visit, a photo of a mother coming to the headstone of her son. i know next to nothing of her son, except perhaps what's on the headstone and i know next to nothing about her, except i have her name on the log and i have a photo of her.
another way of making the connection that the information is out there and it did happen. she came to this same exact site. >> what i learned is that many are visitors are french citizens. >> that's true. >> and what is it about the cemetery to them, you think that brings them here? >> well there's always been a connection with the french and americans, especially going at least back to 1918 that i know of. we can go back to 1776 as well. many people do that as well. haas interesting to see the turn-out of the first few memorial days here with the local community. very high, all the schoolchildren, all the local officials, they came out to honor the fallen. it hasn't changed. last year we had over 3,000 here. and i know we're going to have more in 2018. so that's, that's a link, we're talking 100 years on, we still have great local community support.
♪ >> i say with visitors when they walk through the gate here, a lot of people are struck by how beautiful it is and how well maintained it is. all of that is true. but a lot of work goes into it. but there's a lot of history behind the scenes of what took place to make this site what it is today. we have multigenerational visitors and sometimes employees who work and maintain these sites. often their father or grandfather worked before them at some of these sites. so there's a lot of different ways of making the connection. i can tell you that the french have not forgotten what took place here to free them first time around, 118 and then of course as i worked as well many world war ii cemeteries in france and elsewhere. the locals, it's pretty common just to see a great local community support for the sites. [ bell tolling ]
sunday on oral histories, our women in congress series continues with barbara kennelly and at 8:00 p.m. on the presidency, a look at george washington and alexander hamilton. and the historical accuracy of "hamilton" the musical and on monday, the presidential site summit. wash american history tv. up next, military historian edward langold is the author