Monday, July 3, 2017

Introducing Gilles Lagin

Twenty years ago I received a letter from a friend of mine, now deceased--- the military historian and author, David Homsher---  regarding a remarkable young man from Chateau Thierry whom he had recently met, Gilles Lagin.  David would later publish an article on Gilles in the June 1998 issue of the Marine Corps Gazette, but it is this particular letter that I would like to quote here, as I know of no better introduction to Gilles and his life's work.

David. Homsher writes:   "I and a number of other Americans, including officers and historians of the U.S. Marine Corps, have had the extraordinary experience of having a young, and extremely knowledgeable French historian take us over the American battlefields in the Marne Salient of 1918. This area includes the town of Chateau-Thierry, Belleau Wood, Torcy, Belleau, Bouresches, etc., and covers the battlefields of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 26th, 28th, 32nd, and 42nd American Divisions, ranging from the vicinity of Chateau-Thierry and northwards to the Ourcq and Vesle Rivers during the Aisne-Marne Defensive and Aisne-Marne Offensive campaigns in June, July and August of 1918. M. Lagin knows them all extremely well.

It is my feeling that the knowledge and services of this dedicated French historian should be brought to the attention of as many Americans as possible. The young historian's name is Gilles Lagin, and he is all of thirty-three years old. Gilles is totally dedicated to the memory of the American Expeditionary Force which fought in his area of France, and in particular to the U.S. Marine Corps and its actions in Belleau Wood, Hill 142 and Bouresches. For the last ten years he has assiduously studied the A.E.F. combat actions in the vicinity of Chateau-Thierry, and ranging up to the Ourcq and Vesle Rivers. M. Lagin is a battlefield historian who knows the American battlefields very well, where the units fought and what happened in each area, down to the location of unit foxholes!

The considerable extent of M. Lagin's knowledge of American operations in his area is now slowly becoming known to French historians and officials. Just this year, M. Lagin was invited to speak on A.E.F. operations at an official ceremony in the little town of Bezu-le-Guery, a few miles west of Chateau-Thierry. In June and July of 1918, the church and school in the town of Bezu were the site of an American Army field hospital. In June of this year, the grandson of Colonel Richard Derby, head surgeon at the field hospital, returned to Bezu and presented the mayor of Bezu with a check to the amount of five thousand dollars to be used to restore the old church. As a result of this speech-making effort, Gilles Lagin is being invited to speak about American military operations and battles during the Eightieth Anniversary Ceremonies of the Marne Salient battles to be held in Chateau-Thierry in June and July of 1998. M. Lagin should receive the utmost in encouragement from both the French and American peoples regarding his efforts to educate people in France concerning the actions of the Americans in 1918.

So dedicated to the American Doughboy and his cause in France is M. Lagin, that his greatest hope is someday to open a museum dedicated to the A.E.F. in his home town of Marigny-en-Orxois, just a few miles away from Belleau Wood."   ~~ David Homsher

As I say, this was twenty years ago.  Since then Gilles has completed his museum and has become very well-known indeed.  His reputation as a battlefield guide and historian has grown to the extent that, in 2008, the then-Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James T. Conway, travelled to Belleau Wood personally, to present Gilles with an official certificate acknowledging that he had been made an Honorary Marine, only the second non-US resident to ever receive that honor.  (A link to the Marine Corps news story about this ceremony can be found in the right-hand column on this page).

The chief purpose of this blog is to make it easier for visitors to the Belleau Wood region to contact Gilles---  to obtain information about his battlefield guide services--- and about his Belleau Wood museum.  For specifics, check the right-hand column on this page.  Also found in the right-hand column are links to news stories about Gilles.  

~~~ BJ Omanson

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

See the pre-production trailer

for the documentary film

The Devil Dogs

about the Battle of Belleau Wood,

featuring Gilles Lagin.

The Devil Dogs is a documentary film project about remembrance and the different forms it may assume.  The remembrance of a battle, the Battle of Belleau Wood, and of the American Marines who came to France in 1918 to fight a battle, costing the lives of over 7000 souls.

This battle remains a founding element in the story of the Marine Corps known, to the Germans at that time and place, as Teufelhund  or  Devil Dogs for the doggedness they showed in battle.

It is a film about a person willing to pass on the memory of these terrible times. Gilles Lagin, a passionate and fascinating guide, leads the descendants of the soldiers of the Great War on the tracks of their ancestors. He is as close as you can get to remembrance of the War, for he is the only remaining honorary Marine in Europe, to this day.

Teaser - The Devil Dogs project from Antoine Favre on Vimeo.

Read the full story behind the "Devil Dogs" documentary
by Antoine Favre and Laura Froidefond
about GILLES LAGIN and his life's work
to perpetuate the memory
of those who died at Belleau Wood.