Almost 130,000 soldiers, both Allied and German, lost their lives in Normandy in 1944 in the fight to restore freedom.
The bodies of many soldiers were claimed by their families and returned to their native countries. Others were buried in Normandy, on the land where they fell, in one of the twenty-seven military cemeteries in Normandy. These places invite contemplation and remembrance of the men who fell in order to liberate people they didn’t even know.
The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France is located in Colleville-sur-Mer, on the site of the temporary American St. Laurent Cemetery, established by the U.S. First Army on June 8, 1944 as the first American cemetery on European soil in World War II. It is one of 14 permanent American World War II military cemeteries maintained by the ABMC (American Battle Monuments Commission) on foreign soil. The cemetery was dedicated on July 18, 1956.
The cemetery site, at the north end of its half mile access road, covers 172.5 acres and contains the graves of 9,386 of our military dead, most of whom lost their lives in the D-Day landings and ensuing operations. On the Walls of the Missing, in a semi-circular garden on the east side of the memorial, are inscribed 1,557 names. Rosettes mark the names of those since recovered and identified.
Normandy American Cemetery was formed through the consolidation of ten temporary cemeteries in the region established during Operation Overlord and the campaign inland. The cross-shaped cemetery includes ten grave sections, five on each side of the main (east-west) mall.
Within these sections there are 307 unknown burials, three Medal of Honour recipients, and four women. Forty-five sets of brothers are commemorated or buried in the cemetery, including 33 who are buried side-by-side. A father and son are also buried alongside each other. Every grave is marked with a white marble headstone: a Star of David for those of the Jewish faith, and a Latin cross for all others.
The backs of the headstones are inscribed with the service numbers of the decedents. As in all ABMC cemeteries, the burials are not separated by rank; officers and enlisted men are interred side-by-side.
The crosses are oriented westwards, towards their native land. The precisely aligned headstones against the immaculately maintained emerald green lawn and the omnipresence of the sea convey an unforgettable feeling of peace and serenity. At the crossing of the main paths lay in the form of a Latin cross, the Chapel shelters a black marble altar on which is the inscription: “I give them eternal life and they shall never perish”.
The memorial consists of a semi-circular colonnade with a loggia at each end containing large maps and narratives of the military operations; at the centre is the bronze statue, “Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves.” An orientation table overlooking the beach depicts the landings in Normandy.
Facing west at the memorial, one sees in the foreground the reflecting pool; beyond is the burial area with a circular chapel and, at the far end, granite statues representing the United States and France.
On June 6, 2007, 63 years to the day after Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy, ABMC officially dedicated a new visitor centre to tell the story of the 10,944 Americans buried or memorialized here, and their brothers-in-arms. The visitor centre puts the D-Day landings and subsequent campaigns in Europe in perspective, and underscores Operation Overlord as one of the greatest military achievements of all time.
One-third of the building’s 30,000 square feet is dedicated exhibit space. Using personal stories of participants and a mix of narrative text, photos, films, interactive displays and artefacts, exhibits portray the competence, courage and sacrifice of the American armed forces, and their Allies.
Directly outside of the visitor centre, overlooking Omaha Beach, a reflecting pool includes an engraved map of the D-Day landing beaches.