Why United States Marines Drink from a Fountain in France

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(Cpl. Daniel A. Wulz/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

In 2018, America woke up to a photo of Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, drinking from a public fountain in France. It wasn't a drinking fountain; it was a fountain on the estate of the count of Belleau.

While some civilians might not have understood at first, United States Marines definitely did. The fountain is in the shape of a dog's head, it's known as the Devil Dog Fountain, and it's a pilgrimage site for Marines and Marine Corps veterans.

On Veterans Day 2018, France was hosting representatives and guests to honor the 100-year anniversary of the end of World War I. Dunford, then-Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Robert B. Neller and retired Marine-turned-White House Chief of Staff John Kelly were walking the grounds of the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, which happens to sit across the road from the Devil Dog Fountain.

Gen. Joseph Dunford, the 36th Commandant of the Marine Corps, drinks from the Devil Dog Fountain in Belleau, France. (U.S. Army)

The Aisne-Marne American Cemetery is the final resting place for some 2,289 Marines killed at the Battle of Belleau Wood, 250 of them still unknown. The German forces at Belleau Wood had just transferred 50 fresh divisions of troops from the Eastern Front after the Bolshevik Revolution knocked Russia out of World War I.

With these new troops, the Germans hoped to break the stalemate in the West with overwhelming force. At Belleau Wood, five of those German divisions squared off against the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Brigade and the Marines' 4th Marine Brigade. It quickly turned into a rout -- of the Germans.

Marines forced a German retreat and followed them into the woods, where Marines and those fresh German veterans of the war's Eastern Front fought for an entire month amid artillery fire, poison gas attacks and many, many machine gun nests. It was a battle no one believed the Marines would win until they did. It's said those German troops called United States Marines Teufel Hunden -- "Devil Dogs."

Today, at Belleau, the Devil Dog Fountain sits a few steps away from a chapel rebuilt by Americans after the war, bearing the names of 1,060 men who disappeared during the battle. From the fountain comes a constant stream of fresh water, and Marines visiting the site take a drink in the belief those who drink from it will receive strength and protection in battles to come. It's also done to remember the Marines who fought there and those who never came home.

Marine drinks from Devil Dog Fountain in France
(Sgt. Bethanie Ryan/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

The day before Dunford, Neller and Kelly visited the site was Nov. 10, the birthday of the Marine Corps. It's a holiday that is, to Marines, as celebrated as Veterans Day itself. There's no way these Marines of past and present would have missed the chance to take a drink from one of the most revered sites in Marine Corps history.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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