JOURNEY TO THE OURCQ RIVER, FRANCE
May 25-May 27, 2001
By Cory J. Eberhart
How members of the Rainbow Division Veterans Association
gathered at Chateau Thierry in France for three days to tour
World War I sites including Ourcq River and La Croix Rouge and
Meurcy Farm battlefields and observed Memorial Services at the
Fere-en-Tardenois War Monument, Aisne-Marne and Oise-Aisne American
Cemeteries, culminating the stay with Dedication of the Rainbow
Division Memorial "Battle of the Ourcq River" Plaque at Mayor
Damery's Meurcy Farm.
Rainbow Division Veterans Association families and friends
headed for France in late May. This Rainbow Division, First
World War Tour was billed as "Journey to the Ourcq River, Memorial
Day, May 2001." The three-day gathering by 40 Rainbow Division
family members, friends, and guests began on Friday, May 25,
when groups checked-in at Hotel Campanile in Chateau Thierry,
France. On the weekend agenda, brilliantly arranged and prepared
by Bill Shurtleff, were guided battlefield tours, Memorial Day
Ceremonies, a five-course meal, dedication of the "Battle of
the Ourcq River" Rainbow Division bronze plaque at Meurcy Farm,
and reception hosted by Jacques Damery and his wife.
I have kept a copy of the program prepared by Bill Shurtleff
which was given to everyone as the weekend's activities commenced.
Outlined activities were numerous and impressive in scope, but
what does not appear on my souvenir schedule are the intangibles,
such as personal feelings that arose as these events unfolded.
We were able to share the weekend and make new friends with
other Rainbow "kids" (which is how I think of Millennium Chapter
members, despite the fact many of them have kids of their own).
We enjoyed more than a few war stories told spontaneously by
and about old buddies. We felt pride mixed with sadness upon
seeing the immaculate cemeteries kept by the American Battles
Monument Commission, each marked grave decorated with a French
flag and American flag in honor of American Memorial Day in
France. Such was the quality of these places, that even the
youngest grandchild there seemed to have his moments of reflection
During the course of two days, we had the privilege and pleasure
of getting to know the young French World War I historians,
battlefield experts and guides, Gilles Lagin and Florent Deludet.
Gilles was a nice guy with a big smile and warm handshake. He
seemed driven by curiosity, defensive of the truth. Florent
seemed serious, intent, quiet, thoughtful. He is an avid collector
of Rainbow Division memorabilia, who is as interested in the
story of the item, of who carried it and used it, as he is of
the global events of the time and place when these things were
new. He has compiled an extensive library primarily of Rainbow
Division material, including historical and personal accounts,
diaries, and letters from the days of battle.
Roughly, the gathering was made up of four groups that traveled
independently to the rendezvous location at Hotel Campanile
on the outskirts of Chateau Thierry in the Marne River Valley.
Bill Shurtleff's group, James (Pete) Pettus's group, and Dee
Eberhart's group arrived on Friday, May 25. Bill Kenny's group
came in the following day.
On Saturday, May 26, 2001, we went sightseeing with Gilles
Lagin and Florent Deludet. Their battlefield tour of the Ourcq
River area was quite different from other battlefield tours
I've tagged along on during previous trips to France with Rainbow
Division Veterans. First of all, these were places where World
War I battles were fought, including the site of the Rainbow's
first offensive action as a Division, at least a generation
before these veterans were born. This is not to suggest that
the history was musty, archaic, or inaccessible. Au contraire
(as they say in France), our guides, Gilles and Florent, pointed
out the direction of troop movements and spoke of the action
as if it events were transpiring before their very eyes.
The battlefield tour began at mid-day. Groups, traveling in
their Euro-rental-vans and cars, played follow-the-leader from
one location to the next. First stop was the imposing monument
overlooking Chateau Thierry and the Marne Valley, about seven
miles from Belleau Woods, with a huge wall map illustrating
troop movements, serving as backdrop to Gilles Lagin's lecture
of events that took place from May to July 1918.
Gilles Lagin, Historian and World War I Battlefields
Expert, Chateau Thierry Monument - May 26, 2001
Names of battles appeared along the top of the monument and
Division names were presented on its mid-section. Inscribed
on its face was the following: "This monument has been erected
by the United States of America to commemorate the services
of her troops and those of France who fought in this region
during the World War. It stands as a lasting symbol of the friendship
and cooperation between the French and American armies." Rainbow
Division Veterans and other chapter members posed beneath the
42nd Division inscription for photos.
42nd Rainbow Divison Veterans at the Chateau
Thierry Monument, May 26, 2001
Croix Rouge Farm was the second stop on the tour. Our guides
described the three-hour battle which took place on July 26
in which the Rainbow Division lost two battalions. As a new
Division, there were lessons learned at huge cost: "Don't attack
across an open field." We descended upon a French gentleman
just out of his bath, the current owner of the half-hectare
Red Cross Farm. He showed us a small room in the back of the
barn which was reported to have been an aide station for wounded.
He mentioned that the farm is for sale. As there were no buyers
in our midst, we moved on to Villers-sur-Fere where we were
treated to a panoramic view of fields, forests, villages and
Gilles Lagin and Florent Deludet, Battlefield
Guides for the 42nd Rainbow Division Veterans.
Croix Rouge Farm, May 26, 2001
Within the broad view we could make out such historic places
as: Seringes-et-Nesles, Hill 184, Fere-en-Tardenois (not too
far from Armentieres), Saponay, La Fontaine Supérieure, trees
along the Ourcq River, and Hill 122. Florent noted that, "very
interesting in this area, the landscape is the same as it was
then," as trench warfare was not fought here. He told us that
there were four American Regiments concentrated between Sergy
and where we stood, about 12,000 American infantrymen that sustained
6,500 casualties. "Too much concentrated," Florent concluded,
they were "new troops, too, at this time." Bill Shurtleff (242)
summed it up, "Trial by fire."
We proceeded to Sergy and walked down to a small bridge across
the Ourcq River. We were surprised to see that the Ourcq was
more of a creek than a river. Both Ted Johnson (232) and Ted
Simonson (242) commented that it did not look like how they
ever imagined it from the stories and the histories they had
heard and read.
At Meurcy Farm, the last stop on the battlefield tour, we
met Mr. Damery and members of his family, previewed the "tablet
of bronze," and visited the monument for Second Lieutenant Oliver
Ames of the 165th Infantry who was killed in action at Meurcy
Farm on July 29, 1918. Mr. Damery pointed out the wooded hillside
within easy shouting distance, where Joyce Kilmer of the 165th
Infantry, 42nd Division ("our Irish lyric poet," as described
in the poem, "Rainbow in France," by Dee R. Eberhart) was Killed
in Action on July 30, 1918, at the age of 31 years. He received
the Croix de Guerre and is buried at Oise-Aisne American Cemetery
The stage was now set for observances of American Memorial
Day in France. On Sunday, May 27, 2001, we regrouped and traveled
by bus to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery at Belleau. This
place is sacred to the U.S. Marine Corps. The ceremony took
place near their famous Bulldog Fountain. The Memorial Address
was by General Michael J. Williams, Assistant Commandant of
the Marine Corps. He spoke of the need for remembering and renewing
the bonds that tie our two great nations together. "We are more
than allies. We are more than friends. We are brothers-in-arms."
He concluded his address by saying, "I salute you for your generosity
of spirit, and for the care you take of this place of national
honor. I am proud to represent my Corps here today, and to say
to the souls of our departed heroes…Semper Fidelis."
The entire day was a kaleidoscope of sights, a confusion of
sounds. It began at Aisne-Marne American Cemetery. The French
flag hung at half-mast, heavily draped in the still morning
air. When the Colors were raised at the ceremony's end, a new
breeze lifted both banner and spirits. Masses of rhododendrons
beautified the place as if in denial of any solemnity with their
showy blooms. The Belleau Woods were so close by, we could hear
the singing of its birds. A motorcade arrived with a contingent
of dignitaries. They were seated. We listened to introductory
remarks, the benediction, speeches, poems and the Memorial Address.
We witnessed the offering of wreaths in the hands of white-gloved
American Marines and French Navy Troops. We stood at attention
for the playing of the anthems. Volleys were fired, Taps played
and the Colors raised. Foot tapping martial music provided a
rousing finish as the crowd dispersed. Music has a way of moving
people. It can make them march, dance, laugh, cry. Take Taps,
During our observance of American Memorial Day in France,
Taps was played in the morning ceremony at Aisne-Marne, distant,
beyond our view, muffled by the trees of Belleau Woods, antiphonal,
without an answering echo. Taps was played at the wreath laying
ceremony at the War Monument in Fere-en-Tardenois by a young
soldier of the 1st Infantry Division out of Wuerzburg, Germany,
dressed in camouflage fatigues. He stood in the white chalk
Champagne dust. Cued by his officer, he pursed his lips and
played those mournful notes after wreaths were laid at the foot
of the town's War Monument. We heard the fading notes of Taps
at Seringes-et-Neslse, after the 42nd Infantry Division Plaque
that had been presented by Theodore Johnson during the Oise-Aisne
Ceremony, and accepted by Mr. Jacques Damery, owner of Meurcy
Rainbowers were seated in metal chairs, in the bright, white
reflected light of the Cemetery Chapel walls. They stood for
the passing of the flags, the anthems, the prayers and benedictions,
the faltering singing of "Over There" at Ted Johnson's request
(despite only a single run-through the night before). They sweated
in their suits.
Mr. Damery, owner of Meurcy Farm (where the bronze plaque
was installed) received an ovation following his speech. Translated
into English by Lise Pommois, he spoke of historic events that
surrounded the land where five generations of his family have
lived; of the friendships between French and Americans; of the
Rainbow plaque displayed for perpetuity on a wall at his farm
for all to come and see. He ended with "Long live the United
States, Long Live France!"
Dedication of Rainbow Battle of the Ourcq River
Plaque at Meurcy Farm, May 27, 2001.
The finale of this full-day was the actual unveiling of the
bronze tablet at Meurcy Farm. Dee Eberhart read his poem, written
for this moment, "Rainbow in France," translated into French
by Lise Pommois. It invoked "that tragic time of reaping;" of
men lost during the terrible Battle of the Ourcq in July, 1918.
With the Rainbow Battle of the Ourcq River Plaque now entrenched
at the Damery's Meurcy Farm, the poem exalts, "It is not adieu,
but au revoir!"
That is, "Lest We Forget."
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