A journey back to the French rural landscape where so many American soldiers fell during World War I.
Maine-based journalist and author Rubin (The Last of the Doughboys: The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten World War, 2013, etc.) offers a fine on-the-ground account of some of the iconic battles of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, during which the Americans helped turn the tide finally against the Germans in late 1918. Readers following in Rubin’s scramble across the largely unmarked rural terrain will need a solid background to the actual fighting since, in many places, the author (who does not speak French) felt like he was the only “Anglophone tourist” who had been there since 1918. Artifact hunting is a serious avocation in these parts, and Rubin admits that one should be mentored in the pursuit, as he was for his previous research by Jean-Paul de Vries, the proprietor of a relics museum in Romagne-sous-Montfaucon. The author examines the sites of the most terrible battles missed by the Americans during the first months of the war: Verdun, the Somme, Ypres. The young doughboys of the American Expeditionary Forces were eager to join the fighting, which occurred in Bathelémont, where the first Americans fell in November 1917. Rubin explored the eerie chalk mines on the so-called Chemins des Dames, where the Yankee Division took shelter in early 1918 and where the walls are scrawled with American graffiti, in effect “their last will and testament.” From there, Rubin visited Château-Thierry on the Marne, where Gen. John Pershing’s Americans engaged the German Spring Offensive of 1918, including the legendary Battle of Belleau. Indeed, it was the Americans—and only the Americans—who could drive the Germans back, retaking the occupied territory held for four years. Throughout the book, Rubin sounds his theme of the Americans being crucial to France’s ultimate freedom (as amply recognized by the grateful French).
An eloquent dive into World War I cemeteries, monuments, mines, and trenches.