I sincerely apologize but I was simply overwhelmed by my visit to the city of Chateau Thierry, my three and a half and part of a fourth day with my fantastic guide Gilles Lagin and my visits with Gilles to the WW I battlefields nearby. Wow, is all I can say! Now I suppose many of you are saying, “what is this guy so excited about? Something that occurred 100 years ago, way over in France? Of what significance is it to us today?” In my next few posts I will try to answer those obvious questions. Many of you know that I love learning about history and I have been focused on the American civil war in the past but my love of France, the 100th year anniversary of the so-called “Great War” or “The War to end all wars” and my extended visit to France this spring all seemed to point to an investigation of the involvement of the USA in WW I. President Woodrow Wilson campaigned for re-election on the slogan “he kept us out of war” but after his re-election in 1916 things changed. The sinking of the Lusitania, the so-called “Zimmerman note” and the relentless march of the Kaiser’s Germany to swallow up Western Europe all led to a change in Wilson’s attitude and that of the American public but when the US declared War on Germany in 1917 there were less than 200,00 soldiers in the US Army. By the end of the war in November 1919 there had been nearly 4 million US Military engaged. But we are way ahead of our story of 2017 the 100th year anniversary of the UD entry into WW I and my visit to Chateau Thierry a city of somewhat over 14,000 inhabitants, about 45 miles east of Paris and straddling the River Marne. By May of 1918 the German Army was in the heights of Chateau Thierry and threatening the direct road to Paris and the bridge across the Marne. A small contingent of US Marine machine gunners was hastily transferred to Chateau Thierry in a last ditch attempt to prevent the German’s from crossing the Marne. Rushed from eastern France these machine gunners erected rough barricades on the rue Carnot on the south side of the Marne River directly facing the German attempts to cross the three arch bridge across the river. A small previous US action at a the tiny village of Cantigny not withstanding, the action of the Marines in preventing the Germans from crossing the bridge over the Marne until it could be blown up, was the first real impact of the US in WW I.
OK that is the background and now to today in Chateau Thierry. Gilles Lagin met me at the train ststion in Chateau Theirry this past Tuesday at a little after 1 pm and we went immediately to the Hotel de Ville (city hall) to begin my visit. You will see a photo of Gilles laying out his map to begin my orientation to the US in WW I in general, the so-called “Second battle of the Marne” and the role of Chateau Thierry in it. Gilles is probably the most knowledgeable individual in the world for an understanding of the US in WW I having begun his interest at the age of 9 when he was given a school assignment to prepare a report on that subject. An autodidact who has become now at age 53 the primary recognized historian about the US in WW I in this region of France, it was a fantastic honor for mr to spend three and a half days with him not only in Chateau Thierry but also exploring the battlefields, cemeteries and .monuments dedicated to telling that story. The accompanying photos will give you an idea of Chateau Thierry today, something about it’s history and it’s famous persons and it’s relation to WW I. The Hotel de Ville and the Chateau on the heights above from which the city gets it’s name were the strongholds of the Germans in May 1918. Shell fragments from the battle are still embedded in the huge wooden door and the walls of surrounding buildings still bear the scars of war. The street, which leads directly the short distance from the Hotel de Ville to the famous bridge over the Marne, is now named avenue General de Gaulle. Standing on the north entrance to the bridge one can look across the river and see the buildings where some of the American machine gunners stationed themselves and look directly up the rue Carnot on the south side of the bridge where the Americans built barricades to protect themselves from German machine gun and artillery bombardment. The Americans were able to hold out and prevent the Germans from crossing the Marne until the bridge could be blown up. The current single span bridge is of recent origin, as this same bridge was also blown up in WW II after having been rebuilt after WW I! I hope you enjoy the photos which accompany this story but they are only a small fraction of the photos that I took in Chateau Thierry.