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U.S., France and Germany military members honor centennial of key World War I battle

Friends, family and fellow Marines bidding Cpl. Nicholas Hart of the 3rd Battalion 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division farewell at the Eagle Point National Cemetery. (Submitted by Janice Johnson)

High-ranking military officials from the U.S., France and Germany took part in Memorial Day ceremonies on Sunday to mark the centennial of the battle of Belleau Wood – a turning point in World War I and a key moment in Marine Corps history.

“When they came here they were a youthful corps and had never really experienced conventional commercial-grade warfare and certainly in an enemy that was really a peer enemy,” said Rear Admiral Brent W. Scott, chaplain of the United State Marine Corps. “And this was really the first time that they proved themselves. And there are many great stories that have come out of this battle that have inspired Marines for generations."

The ceremony took place at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in the village of Belleau, France. It included speeches by military officials, prayers, wreath laying, reading of poems and the national anthems of the three countries involved.

More than 5,000 people attended the event. The ceremony celebrates the fierce and deadly month-long battle considered as the first major engagement of U.S. troops in the war, especially Marines whose bravery helped the Allied Forces win in Belleau.

Among the attendees was Mack Shively, 67, grandson of World War I Marine Corps Pvt. Norman Alfred Roberts.

"We found the journal…he kept it religiously,” Shively said. “We read through the journal and then we read the certificate and then we contacted the cemetery here and they gave us some more information about his service. We only found out all of this maybe two or three years ago and we thought '100 years? We have to come and see this.'"

Roberts, wounded during the Battle of Belleau Wood in June of 1918, made it home to America before the war ended.

His unit commander, Lt. Carleton Burr, was killed in nearby Vierzy, France, in July 1918 and buried in the America Cemetery of Belleau.

"For me it was a matter of trying to understand my grandfather,” Shively said. “'Cause he was kind of a distant man and never ever talked about his experiences or that he had done anything that we would call 'heroic.'"

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