Illusions
World War II Poems
by Dee R. Eberhart

Travels with Rainbow

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 and quiet.

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 hills.


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 at Seringes-et-Nesles.

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, for instance.

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 Farm.

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."

Links to More Travel Reports

Munich Rainbow Reunion and 50th Anniversary Tour of Europe

About this website contact:

Cory Eberhart
THE SAURUS PRESS
A Division of Delta-T, Inc.
Goldendale, WA 98620
U.S.A.

The Saurus Press

Copyright © Cory Eberhart 2000-2008. All Rights Reserved.

Page Updated: October 18, 2004