Chester's Citizens in the Great War: The Devil Dog
Corporal Wesley Allen Hoyt never returned home: He rests eternally at the Aisne-Marne Cemetery, next to where he fell at Belleau Wood


The U.S. Marines in Belleau Wood (1918)

By Aaron Lefkowitz
The United States Marine Corps has many legendary battles carved into its mythos during the 20th century, such as Fallujah in Iraq, Iwo Jima in World War II, and Khe Sanh in Vietnam. However, before any of these battles, there was the Marines’ first taste of true war, Belleau Wood.
Only about half the size of Central Park and used as hunting grounds since the times of the Romans, Belleau Wood was not the most impressive location on paper, but it was a strongly fortified German position and the Marines knew it had to be eliminated. As the Marines in support of Army troops marched to the front passing beleaguered French troops, they were told that the war was lost, and retreat was the only the only option. Famously, a Marine officer responded, “Retreat? Hell we just got here!”
After stopping the Germans from advancing from their position, the Americans were ordered to send the Germans packing on June 6, 1918. Corporal Wesley Allen Hoyt was in the 6th USMC Regiment, 3rd Battalion, 83rd Company, on that faithful day as the Marines marched into the wood through open fields.
The Marines already had a reputation for superior marksmanship and physical endurance, over their fellow branches. An estimated 80 percent of their volunteers were rejected as not meeting these higher standards. Hoyt, though, already had exceptional capabilities, as he was a linebacker on the Chester football team from 1901 to 1903, where he asserted a dominating presence. Football of that era was far more brutal and less protected. Like all of his fellow Marines, Hoyt was eager to show what he was made of and tackle the Germans.
'Do you want to live forever?'The 6th Regiment’s goal for the opening day was to seize the town of Bouresches and clear the southern half of Belleau Wood. This would require the Marines to march through a waist-high wheat field, through a relentless hail of German machine guns. In this ensuing chaos, a sergeant in the 6th, Dan Daly, a double Medal of Honor recipient, would famously prompted his men forward, shouting, “Come on, do you want to live forever?,” which would gain him a great deal of fame. By the end of the day, most of Bouresches was in Marine hands, but it came at a high price, including Hoyt — the highest up to that point in the corps' history.
Like so many others who fell in the battle, Hoyt rests eternally at the Aisne-Marne Cemetery, next to Belleau Wood, and the memorial built in remembrance, in accordance with his family's wishes. Wesley lies in Plot A, Row 2, Grave 36, in a perfect row of white crosses and stars, among the 2,289 buried there and another 1,060 remembered. Due to military censorship, only Marine units were mentioned in the press, resulting in the battle becoming the Marines’ legacy as well as a sore spot between the branches. Even 100 years since the battle, Belleau Wood is still hallowed ground to the Marine Corps as much as the sands of Iwo Jima. It is still spoken about among Marines, and ceremonies are still held annually with both Marines and the grateful local people. Last April, when the French President Emmanuel Macron arrived for a state visit, he gifted the United States a sessile oak sapling from Belleau Wood, which was ceremoniously planted by both presidents on the White House lawn.
The 6th Marines are one of only two regiments given the honor of wearing the Fourragère, a braided cord, which serves as a French military award for distinguished units, in eternal recognition of their actions at Belleau Wood. Still to this day, the French people in the areas of the country devastated by the war remember the bravery and sacrifice of the Americans. This has resulted in a great friendship blossoming from this bond, which still exists and grows stronger with every passing year.
' Teufel Hund'According to popular belief, while going through the Germans’ fortifications, a Marine found an officer’s diary, referring to the Marines as “Teufel Hund” Devil Dogs, for their ferocity and fearlessness. While the term had been used in the press, months before the battle, it is after Belleau Wood, that the term’s usage exploded in popular culture. The Marines liked this moniker so much that they still use it with pride and as part of their identity. The Bulldog would become the Marine Corps' official mascot, as it was a breed known for courage and loyalty.
Last year, I had gone to Northern France, where the Great War had been fought, and came across a group of French War re-enactors dressed in the uniforms of that period. A few men were dressed as US Marines with a period accurate tent and even a bulldog, which certainly gave off a tough aura. When they asked me where I was from and I told them, New York, their eyes lit up as one of them showed me a temporary NY tattoo, that he had on his arm. Clearly, there is still a great love of both the United States Armed Forces as well as New York, in these lands of France. Though time has taken all memories of these great feats as well as most of the scars to the earth, it is because of the respect and gratitude to the Marines, that Belleau Wood is more than merely a footnote in history.
Related storiesSee these related stories by Aaron Lefkowitz at chroniclenewspaper.com:
"Goshen's Citizens in the Great War: The trucker"
"Bronze figure of remembrance: The legacy of the Orange Blossoms"
"Chester's citizens in the Great War: The engineer"
"Chester's citizens in the Great War: The millionaire"
"Chester's citizens in the Great War: The batman"
"Chester's citizens in the Great War: The fighter"
"Chester's citizens in the Great War: The Yeomanette"
"Chester's citizens in the Great War: The Roughneck"
"Chester's citizens in the Great War: The Captain"
"Chester's Citizens in the Great War: The Flyer"