While there were a number of men in my family tree who fought during WW I, including some cousins from England, I am aware of only one who died in battle: Robert Lemuel Clore, my fourth cousin twice removed.
Robert was born on July 16, 1894, in Lees Summit, Missouri. He was the middle child, with older and younger sisters, and grew up on the family farm until he was enrolled in the Wentworth Military Academy in Lexington, Missouri. He graduated from the academy with the Class of 1915 and enlisted in the Marines on April 20, 1917.
On the grounds of the Wentworth Military Academy stands a bronze statue — “Spirit of the American Doughboy” by Ernest Moore Viquesney — to honor the memory of “those who made the supreme sacrifice in The World War 1917-1918.” It was unveiled in 1923 by Robert Clore’s mother, because he was the first “son of Wentworth” to lay down his life. Several school traditions exist even to this day about the Doughboy statue, including the requirement that first semester cadets must salute him from a distance of 12 yards when approaching from either direction and must never walk behind him.
Cpl. Robert L. Clore was killed in action at age 23, on June 6, 1918, the first day of the Battle of Belleau Wood, Chateau Thierry, France. He had trained at Port Royal, South Carolina, and was at Quantico, Virginia, when sent to support the French Army with the U.S. Army’s 2nd Division, 4th Marine Brigade.
The Battle of Belleau Wood was the first serious taste of battle for the Marines in WWI. General Pershing called it the most important battle fought by U.S. forces since the Civil War. It was part of the Allied drive in response to the German Spring Offensive in 1918, with the objective of saving Paris from the advancing Germans.
In order to clear Belleau Wood, with its densely packed trees providing cover for the Germans, the Marines first had to cross wheat fields and meadows on which the Germans had trained their machine guns in a way that they could continuously sweep the fields with accurate and high-intensity fire. Caught in the open fields or in the densely packed woods, French officers advised the Marines to turn back, to which U.S. Marine Captain Lloyd Williams is reported to have said, “Retreat? Hell, we just got here.” To clear the woods, the Marines frequently were forced to use bayonets, knives and fists. Such was their ferocity that the Germans gave the Marines the nickname “Teufel Hunden,” which roughly translates as “Devil Dogs.”
The first day of the Battle of Belleau Wood, the Marine Corps lost more men than it had in all the rest of its history. On June 6, the 4th Brigade suffered 1,087 casualties; of that number, 228 died then or later of their wounds. Cpl. Robert L. Clore was one of them.
The battle continued for three weeks; on June 26, the Marines confirmed that they had taken the entire woods. But their success was not without great cost. Total U.S. casualties numbered 9,777, of which 1,811 were fatalities. Although the number of German casualties is unknown, more than 1,600 were taken prisoner. The end of the battle at Belleau Wood corresponded with a general German withdrawal along the whole front. The tide of war had turned, and five months later Germany would be forced to accept an armistice.