By Cdt/PVT Lauren Moseley
This past November for four days, Ansbach’s 9th JROTC Battalion traveled to France and experienced going back in time to WW1. We commemorated the Marines who fought in the battle of Belleau Wood and made new connections with other French and German students. We explored all the history that came to life with each step we took.
Despite the long and tiring trip, we scavenged around the Museum of the Great War in Meaux for the first adventure of our trip. Then we met with German and French students who paid tribute to the soldiers that fell in the First World War, at “Les Chesneaux” necropolis, the national cemetery at Château-Thierry. Following the tribute we marched in a torchlight procession to the city hall.
The next day was quite full; it started with attending a remembrance ceremony at the Église Saint-Crépin, a Catholic church in Château-Thierry.. It was followed by the first wreath laying ceremony at the Memorial of the 3rd American Division where each cadet laid a rose in front of the memorial. For the second wreath laying ceremony at the Château-Thierry American Monument, we paid our respects as our First Sergeant Kenton Duplessie and our Company Commander, Cdt/CPT Isaac Willis, laid a wreath and saluted all soldiers who gave their lives in the 3rd American Division. Next, we drank from the “Devil Dog Fountain” in the small town of Belleau, a well-known pilgrimage site for Marines. We then took a tour of the Belleau Wood Battlefield and the Aisne Marne Cemetery where our Executive Officer, Cdt/MAJ Pirner spread sand from Omaha Beach across a Major Edward B. Cole’s tombstone to highlight his name. Major Cole was a Marine officer who was killed in action at Belleau Wood and posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for heroism. Cadets also laid a wreath in the chapel and each of us retrieved a red carnation, chose a tombstone that stood out to us, and commemorated them by slowly saluting those who served and died in the Marne Valley in the summer of 1918. We then toured the Château-Thierry Temple, also known as the American Memorial Church. The original church was destroyed in WWI, so leaders of the Reformed Church in the United States decided to use what remained in the War Fund to build the church. All the furnishings, stained glass windows, and the organ were paid for by American families in memory of soldiers killed in action during the war. We then ended the night by traveling back to the hostel and tried “speed friending” with the French and German students. We sat in two circles facing each other and had two minutes to interact before stitching to the next student.
The next day we had some time to rest as we split into two groups. The first group would spend the morning exploring the city of Reims. The tour included the Reims Cathedral and its history during WWI, the Musée de la Reddition or the WWII Museum of the Surrender, and a memorial to members of the WWII French Resistance who gave their lives. The Second group of cadets spent the morning eating pastries and shopping for souvenirs. We then met back up for lunch and then switched activities. At the end of the day we all met at the hostel for dinner. Cdt/PV2 Hailey Tudor was moved by the stories of the members of the resistance, “The views and facts about the places were fascinating. My favorite was a small memorial for the people…one was hiding Jews and someone told the Nazis. They all died. This stuck with me particularly…this person’s bravery, even though they knew the consequences, they still did it to protect people,”
Though exhausted from the past three days, for our final day in France we started by walking through the trenches at La Main de Massiges, a WW1 archaeological site of restored French trenches. We then ventured to Fort Douaumont in Verdun where we met our tour guide. We proceeded throughout the fort and learned much from our amazing tour guide; this was the first tour she gave in English. We then traveled to the Douaumont Ossuary where each of us embarked up many, many stairs to see the view at the top. The ossuary is a memorial underneath which lay the bones of more than 130,000 French and German soldiers. From the top, we had a view of the Verdun battlefields and the Fleury-devant-Douaumont National Necropolis, the largest French military cemetery from World War I. For our final adventure we stopped at the Bayonet Trench where we did a quick walk around the site where 21 French soldiers . Finally we started our long journey back home and eventually arrived back home at 23:00.
All in all, it was a very educational and thrilling experience. We are so grateful we were able to have this opportunity. Here are some words from our cadets who went on the trip, Cdt/SGT Vanessa Bobbitt stated, “8 out of 10, would do again “ and Cdt/MAJ Emma Pirner reiterated, “ This trip gave our battalion a lot of knowledge about our history and opportunities our cadets will not forget.”