Monroe's Citizens in the Great War: George McElroy, the Leatherneck
Private George McElroy, a young man from Monroe, New York, was in the 5th USMC Regiment, 2nd Division, at the Battle of Belleau Wood in Germany 100 years ago.
MONROE — The United States Marine Corps has many legendary battles carved into its mythos during the 20th century, such as Fallujah in Iraq, Iwo Jima in World War 2 and Khe Sanh in Vietnam. However, before any of these battles, there was the Marines’ first taste of true war in World War I: Belleau Wood. Only about half the size of Central Park and used as hunting grounds since the times of the Romans, Belleau Wood was not the most impressive location on paper, but it was a strongly fortified German position and the Americans knew it had to be eliminated. After stopping the Germans from advancing from their position, the Marines supporting the Army were ordered to send the Germans packing on June 6, 1918. Among the few and the proudPrivate George McElroy of Monroe, New York, was in the 5th USMC Regiment, 2nd Division, on that faithful day as the Marines marched into the wood through open fields. The Marines already had a reputation for superior marksmanship and physical endurance over their fellow branches. They were often referred to as “Leathernecks” as during the Barbary Wars (1801-15) against pirates, the early Marines wore a leather collar, to protect their necks from cutlasses. An estimated 80 percent of their volunteers were rejected as not meeting these higher standards. McElroy was passed the demands and met the requirements to be among the few and the proud. American Commander John Pershing had chosen the Marines for this pivotal battle, specifically for their skill and prowess. The 5th Regiment’s goal for the opening day, was to support their fellow Marines in breaking through the frontal defenses of the Germans. As is often the case, things did not go according to plan as the Marines charged toward the hardened German defenders. Plot A, Row 12, Grave 75More than 100 Marines would fall in battle on the opening day alone, including McElroy. The fighting was among the fieriest of the war in the dense and well-fortified woods. On the 26th of June, the Marines sent a simple message to command: “Belleau Wood now US Marine Corps entirely.” Like so many others who fell in the battle, McElroy’s family had decided for him to rest eternally at the Aisne-Marne Cemetery, next to Belleau Wood and the memorial built in remembrance. McElroy lies in Plot A, Row 12, Grave 75, in a perfect row of white crosses and stars, among the 2,289 buried there and another 1,060 remembered. Even a hundred years since the battle, Belleau Wood is still hallowed ground to the Marine Corps as much as the sands of Iwo Jima. The 5th Marines are one of only two regiments, who were given the honor of wearing the Fourragère, a braided cord, which serves as a French military award for distinguished units, in eternal recognition of their actions at Belleau Wood. In April of this year, when French President Emmanuel Macron arrived for a state visit, he gifted the United States a sessile oak sapling from Belleau Wood, which was ceremoniously planted by both presidents, on the White House lawn. Floyd Gibbons, a war correspondent, known for a life of danger, was also in the thick of combat on the opening day of Belleau Wood with the Marines. Due to censorship rules, Gibbons could not mention Army units, but he did mention Marines. As a result, the American public believed that only the Marines were there, and it became known as their great victory. 'A Story of Your Home Town'Sacrifice is a necessity in war. With time, memory fades. But names and stories live on thanks to memorials and historians. Monroe has the good fortune. It has a book, "Monroe in the World War: A Story of Your Home Town and Its Honor Men," published in the 1920s, documenting the service of Monroe’s residents, with a section dedicated to McElroy as a true son of Monroe. On Saturday, Nov. 10, Monroe Town Historian James Nelson will host a special program called, “The End of the War to End All War." The speaker will be Paul Ellis-Graham retired Monroe-Woodbury high school teacher and a member of the Monroe Historical Society member. He will be discussing Monroe’s role during the Great War and about its residents’ service, including George McElroy.