Willard G. Leenhouts History
Willard G. Leenhouts left his home in Holland, Michigan as an enlisted marine on April 23, 1917 for Paris Island, North Carolina. Willard was eventually assigned to the Marine Headquarters Company at Vaux, France. He was killed in Belleau Woods on July 3, 1918. He is buried in the Aisne Marine Cemetery at Belleau Woods, near Chateau Thierry.
This World War I cemetery is the final resting place for 2,288 military from the USA. Most of those buried there are from units which fought in the immediate vicinity and in the valley of the Marne in the summer of 1918. There are two special features in this cemetery. One is the 13 rows of graves. As this was the first battle or campaign of World War I when the American troops were put into line at more than division strength, the 13 rows may be considered symbolic of our unity, just as the 13 stripes in our flag represent the unity of the 13 original states.
Secondly, this is the only cemetery of World War I where the headstones are laid out in curved lines which embrace the chapel and Belleau Wood. The woods, officially called Bois de la Brigade de Marine by the French in honor of the unit mainly responsible for its capture, is now owned by the United States government. Except for the cemetery at Omaha Beach, none of the World War II cemeteries are so closely allied with specific battlefields as here at Belleau. Of the 2,288 burials, 250 are those of Unknown Soldiers. On World War I headstones, the inscription reads “Here Rests in Honored Glory an American Soldier Known but to God”. In World War II cemeteries, the inscription reads “Here Rests in Honored Glory a Comrade in Arms Known but to God”.
A brief review of the history of the fighting in the area is summarized as follows:
In 1917, following the Russian Revolution, Germany was able to draw troops in large numbers from the Eastern Front for use against the French and British. The Germans planned several large offensives in 1918 designed to destroy the Allies in France before American troops could arrive in sufficient numbers.
Beginning on 21 March the German armies launched a series of powerful attacks on the Western Front. On that date there were only 300,000 American soldiers in France. Most of them only partially trained. General John J. Pershing immediately offered our entire resources to the Allies. The situation was serious but, fortunately, the Germans were stopped before capturing Amiens, the loss of which would have separated the French and British Armies.
The second assault was launched on 9 April south of Ypres. The third blow, against the French, came on 27 May across the Chemin des Dames, northwest of Reims. By evening the Germans had crossed the Aisne and were south of the Vesle River. Reinforcements were hurriedly brought up, including the U.S. 2nd and 3rd Divisions. The motorized machine-gun battalion of the 3rd Division reached Chateau-Thierry on 31 May and there gallantly assisted in preventing the crossing of the Marne.
The 2nd Division, arriving by truck on 1 June, went into position just south of Belleau Wood. The division thus established itself across the main route to Paris where it repulsed all attacks and effectively stopped the German advance. On 6 June, the 2nd Division, in a battle that lasted over 3 weeks, captured and held Belleau Wood, Bouresches and Vaux. Belleau Wood, still showing the scars of the battle, is maintained as a memorial to all American soldiers who fought in World War I.
The last German offensive of the war was launched on 15 July on both sides of Reims. The Allies were fortunate enough to determine the exact day and hour the attack was scheduled to start. With the help of the 3rd Division and elements of the 26th, the Allies were able to thwart the Germans. The 38th Infantry of the 3rd Division acquired the name of “The Rock of the Marne”. President Truman directed that this name also be placed on the regimental insignia of the 30th Infantry.
On 18 July the Allies launched their offensive to reduce the Aisne-Marne salient. The 1st and 2nd Divisions, with the French 1st Moroccan Division, one regiment of which was the famous Foreign Legion, formed the spearhead of the attack. By 8 the next morning the Allies had enough ground to be assured the success of the whole battle and marked the turning point of the war.
Of the 310,000 American soldiers who fought in these operations, 67,000 were casualties. Many of those who died in the operations beginning on 18 July are buried in the Aisne-Marne Cemetery; others are buried at the Oisa-Aisne Cemetery at Fere-en- Tardenois, located 14 miles to the northeast. The chapel in this cemetery stands directly over frontline trenches dug by the Allies as part of the defense of Belleau Wood. The figures carved on the capitals of the three columns on each side of the door represent different trench actions scenes and soldiers in battle dress of World War I. There is a hole in the stonework which was caused by a German anti-tank shell in 1940. There was considerable damage done to the chapel and about 100 headstones had to be replaced. In the chapel are the names of the 1060 men who fought in this region and who sleep in unknown graves.
Inside the chapel, the window on the right shows the seal of the United Sates and the shoulder sleeve insignia of General Headquarters, the I and III Corps and the divisions which fought in this region. The Regular Army Division insignia, the 2nd Division insignia and the National Guard insignia is also displayed. Also included are the insignias of the 26th Division, the 28th, the 32nd and the 77th Division. In the window on the left are the Coats of Arms of the United States, France, Great Britain, Italy, Belgium, Serbia and Romania.