It is the 70th anniversary of the D-Day Invasion this year, and we wanted to visit the sites of the Normandy landings from June 6, 1944 during Deb and Gerry’s visit with us. After seeing Mont Saint-Michel, we drove to Saint Laurent-sur-Mer to see Omaha Beach and Colleville-sur-Mer to see the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.
It was a beautiful day on Omaha Beach, the weather was perfect. The ocean looking toward the English Channel was also perfect, not like on D-Day 70 years ago with 5 to 6 foot swells, 59 degree temperature, and force 4 winds. The day we were there we saw swimmers in the water, kitesurfers working the waves, and people walking the beach barefoot. I kept looking at how exposed WWII troops would have been on the beach, thinking about the books I’ve read describing the D-Day landings, and seeing in my mind that horrific 25-minute opening scene to the film “Saving Private Ryan.” Massive sacrifice and history was made at that location. Tracy said it was like seeing an old photo overlaid atop a recent one, an odd sense of realism and history merged together in your mind – both compelling and disconcerting at the same time.
We did get the opportunity to chat for a while with an author who had a display highlighting veterans of WWII whom he interviewed both for the display near the beach and his current book. He shared stories of the battle, some of which we knew and some we had never heard. Though we didn’t buy his book, we did enjoy talking with him for a while and appreciated his insight and suggestions.
The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is located on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach. It covers 172 acres (70 hectare) and commemorates the remains of 9,387 American military dead, most of whom were killed during the invasion of Normandy and the ensuing military operations in World War II. The names of 1,557 Americans who lost their lives in the Normandy campaign but could not be located or identified are inscribed on the walls of a semicircular garden at the east side of the memorial. There is also a 22 foot tall bronze sculpture, The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves.
Like all other overseas American cemeteries in France for World War I and II, France has granted the United States a special, perpetual concession to the land occupied by the cemetery, free of any charge or any tax. This cemetery is managed by the American government by the American Battle Monuments Commission. The US Flag flies over the cemetery.
Deb and Tracy were able to locate the markers for the Niland brothers, whose story was part of the inspiration for the movie “Saving Private Ryan.” Though they did have to wait for a bit while a group of French tourists finished visiting, they did get the opportunity for a few photos of the brothers’ markers which are side-by-side in the cemetery. There are 45 sets of brothers buried here, only 33 of them are buried side-by-side. In addition there are 3 medal of honor recipients, a father and son (also buried side-by-side), 307 unknown burials and four women.
The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is the American Battle Monuments Commission’s most visited cemetery, receiving about a million visitors each year.