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Americans and French mark 100th anniversary of WWI offensive

Scenes from Oise-Aisne Ceremony. (Stars and Stripes/YouTube)

French and Americans gathered at the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery in France on Saturday to mark the centennial of the Oise-Aisne Offensive.

About 55,000 Americans were killed or wounded in the World War I operation, which included two separate offensives, the Aisne-Marne and the Oise-Aisne battles. Most of the nearly 6,000 Americans buried at Oise-Aisne American Cemetery died in these battles.

The centennial ceremony Saturday featured a flyover by two World War I-style biplanes to honor the pilots who fell in the war, including Lt. Quentin Roosevelt, President Theodore Roosevelt’s son, who was shot down nearby in July 1918.

U.S. Maj. Gen. Steve Ferrari, 42nd Infantry Division commander, and Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, both gave speeches, quoting poet and 42nd Division soldier Sgt. Joyce Kilmer, who is buried at the cemetery. Ferrari ended his speech with Kilmer’s powerful poem “Prayer.”

Standing nearby, dressed in a World War I-style American uniform, Cpl. John Koenig, Headquarters and Support Company, 42nd Infantry Division, said, “I still can’t believe I am in France for the ceremony. This unit is close to me, and I am interested to learn more about it.”

The 42nd fought a two-day battle nearby at Croix Rouge Farm, where later Saturday another ceremony was planned at the division’s memorial monument.

A three-volley salute was given by a French 75 mm cannon from 1897. The ceremony ended with a firing of volleys by a U.S. Army honor platoon and the playing of French and American taps.

“It’s fantastic to have been here. We’ve been here for a week and have seen most of the sites where our unit fought,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Terry White of 1st Battalion, 167th Infantry Regiment, as he walked through the rows of crosses and Stars of David after the ceremony.


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