French President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday that he is bringing a living tribute to "Devil Dog" Marines who fell in the World War I battle of Belleau Wood to the White House this week as a symbol of the two nations' enduring ties.
The oak sapling from the battle site will be presented to President Donald Trump in hopes that it will be planted in the White House garden, Macron said in an interview on the "Fox News Sunday" program from the Elysee Palace in Paris.
Macron arrives in the U.S. Monday on a three-day visit that is expected to focus on the way forward in Syria following the April 13 missile strikes, and on France's concern that Trump next month may pull the U.S. out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to halt Iran's nuclear programs.
"Retreat? Hell, We Just Got Here"
The battle of Bois de Belleau, or Belleau Wood, about 60 miles north of Paris near the Marne River in the Champagne region, has entered Marine Corps lore. It’s best known among Marines as the place where they were first called "Devil Dogs" for their fierce defense in June 1918 that blunted the German spring offensive.
A dispatch from the German front lines to higher headquarters described the Americans blocking their way and mounting counter-offensives as fighting like "Teufel Hunden," or "Hounds of Hell."
At one point, French forces moving to the rear to regroup urged the Marines to join them. The response from a Marine, attributed to either Capt. Lloyd W. Williams of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, or Maj. Frederic Wise, was, "Retreat? Hell, we just got here."
Once they consolidated their positions, the Marines would attack six times through mustard gas and withering machine-gun fire before the Germans were driven from the wood. An estimated 2,000 Marines were killed.
An official German report later described the Marines as "vigorous, self-confident, and remarkable marksmen."
Army Gen. John J. "Black Jack" Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force on the Western Front, marveled at the tenacity of the "Devil Dogs" of Belleau Wood in a quote that has also become part of the Marine legend.
"The deadliest weapon in the world is a United States Marine and his rifle," Pershing said.
He added that, "the battle of Belleau Wood was for the U.S. the biggest battle since Appomattox and the most considerable engagement American troops had ever had with a foreign enemy" to that time.
The oak sapling Macron will give to Trump was taken from a site near the so-called "Devil Dog Fountain," where U.S. troops gathered after the battle of Belleau Wood. The fountain's spout is in the shape of the head of a bull mastiff.
The gift of the sapling is not the first time Macron has sought to firm up relations with a world leader by playing to their affections for the armed forces and military pageantry.
During a state visit to China earlier this year, Macron gave Chinese President Xi Jinping a horse from the elite French Republican Guard. Macron had remembered that Xi was impressed with his official escort of 104 horsemen during a visit to Paris in 2014.
Last July in Paris, Trump was similarly impressed by the military formations and fly-bys at the annual Bastille Day Parade. The parade in France was believed to have been a factor in Trump's decision to order a military parade in Washington, D.C. on this coming Veterans Day.
Trumps, Macrons To Dine At Mount Vernon
On Monday, Macron and his wife, Brigitte, will join Trump and First Lady Melania Trump for a private dinner at the historic Mount Vernon, Virginia, estate of George Washington. Macron will also address Congress and attend an official state dinner at the White House.
Although they have had differences on climate change, tariffs, and Syria, Macron said he was committed to working with Trump and he sidestepped the possible repercussions from the long-running special counsel investigation swirling around the White House.
"I never wonder [about] that," Macron said of the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. "I mean, I work with him. I work with him because both of us are very much at the service of our country on both sides," Macron said on "Fox News Sunday."
"Here, in this office, I'm not the one to judge and in certain way, to explain to your people what should be your president," Macron said. "I'm here to deal with the president of the United States. And people of the United States elected Donald Trump."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.