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What a WWI cemetery in France means to every Arizonan


What a WWI cemetery in France means to every Arizonan

Jun 07, 2024 | 12:16 pm ET
By Dan Barkhuff Naveed Shah
What a WWI cemetery in France means to every Arizonan
"These are some of our Marines buried here," said U.S. Marine Sergeant Major Darrell Carver of the 6th Marine Regiment as he walks among the graves of U.S. soldiers, most of them killed in the World War I Battle of Belleau Wood, during a ceremony to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the battle on Memorial Day at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery on May 27, 2018 near Chateau-Thierry, France. Nearly 100 years before U.S. soldiers, including Marines from the 6th Regiment, repelled repeated assaults from a German advance at Belleau Wood only 60 miles from Paris. The U.S. suffered approximately 10,000 casualties in the month-long battle, including nearly 2,000 dead. Today the Battle of Belleau Wood is central to the lore of U.S. Marines. Photo by Sean Gallup | Getty Images

Machine gun fire, sharpshooters, barbed wire, bayonets, bombs of every kind and finally, fist-to-fist fighting. That was the Battle of Belleau Wood where the German infantry and U.S. Marines clashed outside Paris a little more than a century ago.

It was a turning point in World War I, a key component of Marine Corps lore, and the final resting place of 2,289 Americans, now buried in the nearby Aisne-Marne Cemetery. Three Arizonans are there beneath peaceful, well-kept graves.

On June 9, as part of a commemorative D-Day trip to Europe, America’s current president will visit. The president before him skipped a trip to Aisne-Marne, choosing instead to slander the heroes.

More than 100,000 courageous Marines, soldiers, sailors, nurses, and other military personnel who sacrificed their lives for freedom during World War I and World War II lay to rest in sacred sites like Aisne-Marne. Overall, there are 25 overseas American military cemeteries, with 863 Arizonans commemorated.

As veterans of the 9/11 wars, we reflect on these distant deaths from the comforts of our homes in America. How do we honor those who fell in a French forest, a Pacific Island or an Iraqi alleyway?

Often those who go to war say with their actions what they do not say with their words. Throughout our nation’s history, American brothers and sisters have spoken by fighting battles abroad so we could live in a country free of such threats.

We try and honor them, first by recognizing that their sacrifice can never be repaid. Then we try to accept the Sisyphean task of living a “good life” and accepting the challenge of being citizens who, honor the fallen by at least trying — to live with moral courage.

This means speaking truth not only when it feels difficult but especially when it is hard, when it is not in our interest, and when it makes us reevaluate prior loyalties.

For these reasons we have forged a coalition of veterans from different political parties and diverse backgrounds to ask Democrats, Republicans and Independents for a simple pledge: Honor the 2024 election results and renounce violence in what is shaping up to be the most consequential campaign season in our lifetime.

In Arizona, where our organizations have almost 1,500 members combined, we veterans are a force at the polls and comprise about 10 percent of the state overall. We and our military families seek a commander in chief who will have a steady hand at the helm, and who is guided by humanitarian values.

Late last month in North Carolina, home of America’s largest military base, we attended the Republican state convention and requested their pledge. The GOP’s presumed presidential candidate, Donald Trump, is actively condoning and promoting violence on the campaign trail. They did not pledge and threw us out of their gathering.

Which circles us back to the sacred resting place of Aisne-Marne Cemetery.

In 2018, bad weather stopped Trump’s helicopter trip there. The Secret Service, according to accounts of those in attendance, told him they could drive instead. Trump is alleged to have said he didn’t want to visit the cemetery because it was “filled with losers.”

The more than 1,800 Marines who died at Belleau Wood, he added, were “suckers” for getting killed.

That Trump has repeatedly disregarded the rule of law and disparaged veterans and the concept of service is well known. What is unknown is what might the fallen heroes at Belleau Wood have said about a man like Trump?