Floyd Gibbons (1887–1939)
From World War I and America: Told by the Americans Who Lived It
The Battle of Belleau Wood, a defining moment of the First World War, was 100 years ago this month.
Depending on how you measure it, Belleau Wood is not more than two-thirds the size of New York’s Central Park. Yet two Marine regiments spent twenty-six days driving German forces out of the forest, which was thick with old-growth trees, tangled undergrowth, and huge boulders. The only approach to the wood was through a wide field of wheat, which provided little in the way of cover against the machine-gun nests that dotted the edge of the forest. More Marines were killed or wounded in that month-long battle than in the Corps’s entire history to that point. Their dogged performance in June 1918, writes military historian and former Assistant Secretary of Defense Bing West, “solidified the Marines as America’s frontline shock troops.”
And the journalist Floyd Gibbons was there, smack in the middle of the first wave of attacks. Like many of the Marines engaged in combat on June 6, he didn’t make it past that first day, ending up in a hospital for the remainder of the month—along with the gunnery sergeant who tried to warn away the intrepid reporter and the commanding officer Gibbons attempted to rescue on the battlefield. We present his riveting account of that day as our Story of the Week selection.
Image, above: The original Ladies’ Home Journal caption reads, “June 6, 1918, saw one of the most spectacular bits of fighting that occurred during the Belleau offensive. Two hundred and fifty Marines, facing a terrific machine-gun fire, charged across this wheat field. The wheat, nearly waist high and still very green and dotted with poppies, was their only protection. Of this number only 20 were left to take [the village of] Bouresches, which was held by 300 Germans.” The capture of Bouresches was one of several incidents that occurred that day in the first wave of American attacks on Belleau Wood. Scan from the U.S. Military Forum.