This moss-banked fountain in the heart of the ancient village
of Belleau, France, has become ~ by a quirk of history ~ a central
symbol in the lore of the U.S. Marine Corps. The iconography of the
fountain, of course, greatly predates the arrival of the Marines in
1918. The "bulldog" of the fountain is, in fact, a bull mastiff,
doubtless one of the hunting mastiffs for which the Chateau of Belleau was famous.
It was to this same Chateau of Belleau which Belleau Wood,
Bois de Belleau, belonged by tradition. The cold & pristine
water which gushes from the mastiff's mouth is the "beautiful
water", belle eau, for which the village itself was named.
When the Marines took Belleau Wood from the Germans in June, 1918,
they had just been dubbed Teufelhunden, "devil dogs",
by their opponents, a soubriquet which the Leathernecks quite
cheerfully adopted. Almost at once, depictions of fierce helmeted
hounds began appearing on recruiting posters and even in the letters
of the Marines themselves. And so it was that when the first Marines
entered the shattered, abandoned village of Belleau, begrimed by
battle & the unrelenting heat, they must have greeted the sight of
this venerable canine with particular delight. For not only, in the
wake of their fiercest battle to that time, could they luxuriate in
the clear & cooling stream, slaking thirst & swabbing their steaming
necks, but, in the very act of replenishment, in a ritualistic
partaking of restorative water bestowed by the beast, they affirmed,
as though with a warriors' toast of raised aluminum cups & canteens,
the newest & hardest-won symbol of the Corps: Teufelhunden ~
Devil Dogs ~ Bulldogs of the Marne.
Now that this stirring portrait has been painted, it must be
confessed that nothing of the sort ever occured. Though the Marines took
Belleau Wood in late June, 1918,
Belleau itself was captured not by the Marine Brigade, but by the
26th Division some three weeks later, by which time the Marines were
fighting & dying at Soissons.
How and when the "bulldog fountain"
actually entered into the mythology of the Corps remains something
of a mystery, but it must have happened in the weeks & months following
the Armistice, as Marines--- first individually, and then later with wives & family---
began return in an act of pilgrimage to the
scene of their most famous battle & the new American cemetery which had grown up
on the very edge of Belleau Wood itself.
It was after the war, then, that Marines first began
entering the village of Belleau in numbers, and first began to associate the
mastiff of the village fountain with the emerging legend of the Teufelhund,
which had originated among the German soldiers entrenched in Belleau Wood in the early summer of 1918.