War Resonates Anew on Hallowed French Ground

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CHÂTEAU-THIERRY, France — The remains of some of the last American doughboys of World War I to be identified were found just a few years ago, buried in a vegetable garden in this little town, wine bottles clasped in their crossed arms. They had died of their wounds in a field hospital set up in an adjoining farmhouse.

Because dog tags rusted so quickly, soldiers created their own unofficial method for future identification: They wrote a note identifying the dead, with the date and manner of death, and two comrades of higher rank signed it as witnesses. They then stuck the note in an empty bottle, corked it and buried it in the arms of the corpse, said David Atkinson, superintendent of the sweeping Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, at the foot of the hill where the Battle of Belleau Wood was fought, a site sacred to the Marine Corps.

More than 116,500 American troops died in World War I in less than six months, slaughtered in a war that was supposed to end all wars. In this region of France — today a lush, rainy carpet of fields and hills — roughly 300,000 troops were killed or wounded on all sides in the summer of 1918, 70,000 of them American. They were vital to the successful effort to block the Germans from advancing on Paris, about 60 miles away and accessible now by a suburban train....

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