When visiting the D-Day beaches, a natural next step (in my opinion) should be the cemeteries to honor those fallen. We visited two on our recent visit.
Normandy American Cemetery
This cemetery is the most heavily visited site, sitting on a cliff overlooking Omaha Beach and the English Channel. In 2007 it was the first Visitor Center opened by the organization that oversees all of our sites. Visitors first learn about French life under the occupation of German forces and then the focus shifts to the planning of the invasion of Europe and why Normandy was chosen. Exhibits explain the roles of the many different specialists in the U.S. forces required to successfully breach the Atlantic Wall defenses.
This engraving was seen upon arrival to the visitor’s center.
The letter below was distributed on the eve of the invasion. It was only one page.
There is a moving film, a number of exhibits and personal stories told before you walk through a final hallway hearing the names of those that were lost.
After a short distance, you can see the shoreline from the cliff above. Eric and Connor were talking about the events that occurred in 1944.
The memorial consists of this semi-circular colonnade with a loggia at each end containing large maps and narratives of the military operations.
The sculpture in the center is called ‘The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves’.
Behind this sculpture are tablets with the names of the missing in action, lost or buried at sea. 1557 names are listed along the panels. A few have a brown rosette next to a name on the wall to indicate they have been found.
The cemetery contains 9388 gravestones of white marble. Those of the Jewish faith are marked by Stars of David. Latin crosses mark all others.
Most of those buried here lost their lives in the D-Day landings and subsequent hedgerow fighting.
France granted the U.S. a special perpetual concession to the land free of any charge or taxation, but it is still French soil. There was a pathway with the headstones on the right as seen below.
On the left is a serene look at the landing beach that were so very different on 6.6.1944.
As we walked around there are a number of languages that can be heard – not only English. It is a place for contemplation and respect for what happened in history and hopefully a lesson learned.
As we were leaving, I grabbed one last shot.
Brittany American Cemetery
This site is named in honor of the battle to secure the Brittany peninsula and its ports. The greater number of those lost their lives during the German counterattack at Mortain in early July 1944. Others fell on the field of battle up to the liberation of Paris in August 1044.
The statue is called ‘Youth Triumphing Over Evil’.
The chapel is built of granite typical of Brittany. Inside the memorial contains two large operations maps, and military corps flags hung from its walls. Eight stained glass windows depict some of the town liberated between Normandy and Paris.
The cemetery contains 4405 American war dead. Inscribed along the retaining wall of the memorial terrace are the names of 500 of the missing whose remains were not recovered.
VE Day or Victory in Europe Day was May 8 and we saw a number of floral arrangements marking the day during our travels. This is the day celebrating the formal acceptance by the Allies of WWII of German’s unconditional surrender of its armed forces, marking the official end of World War II in Europe.
Like many other places, there was a peaceful reverence while we walked. I would guess that visitation is minimal as there is no public transportation to this location and a taxi would be needed after taking a train to Rennes. We saw one other couple during our time. Viewed from the air the cemetery forms the shoulder sleeve insignia of General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces.
The grounds were immaculate and well kept. There was a noticeable difference. I stopped back at the Visitors center and passed along my observations and thanks.
My last photo is from a plaque inside of the chapel.