A few years ago I visited Normandy and was able to pay a visit to the Cimetière Américain de Colleville-sur-mer ( Normandy American Cemetery). I don’t usually get too emotional at cemeteries, but this one was different.
The cemetery is 172.5 acres with 9,387 burials and the names of 1,557 soldiers who are listed as missing in action. It’s located on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach with a breathtaking view. Most of those buried here were killed during the D-Day invasion, and it’s interesting to note that the cemetery overlooks the sector where the 1st Division landed on D-Day.
Only a couple of days after the invasion of Normandy began on June 6th, 1944; the U.S. Army created the temporary cemetery, American St. Laurent Cemetery on June 8th, 1944 to begin burying those that had died within the last 36 hours.
After the war had ended, the Normandy American Cemetery was created a short distance to the east of the St Laurent Cemetery. This cemetery was dedicated on the 18th of July 1956 and consolidated bodies from 10 temporary cemeteries located nearby.
The dead were placed in wooden coffins which were then put in metal vaults to keep the graves from sinking. Each grave faces west towards the United States. The perfect rows were formed using string lines.
Upon entering the cemetery you see a semi-circular memorial made out of limestone and engraved with the names of the 1,557 missing in action. Rosettes have been placed next to the names of those who have since been identified.
It really hit me walking into the cemetery and just seeing all the names of those lost, and the rows and rows of graves. Maybe it was because I had just been on a D-Day Tour that covered important locations during the invasion, or because I had recently watched Saving Private Ryan, but this cemetery made me so incredibly sad. Seeing the graves of such brave men, many of them being so very young when they died. It probably didn’t help much that we happened to get there right as taps was playing.
Some cool facts about this cemetery that I found were of the 9, 387 people buried here 307 of the graves are unknown, and four are women. There are also 38 pairs of brothers buried side by side, and a father and son are also buried here. The brothers who inspired Saving Private Ryan (Preston and Robert Niland) are also buried here.1)https://www.warhistoryonline.com/war-articles/american-cemetery-at-omaha-facts-we-didnt-know-but-you-did.html
One of the most sought after graves here is that of Theodore Roosevelt Jr, son of President Theodore Roosevelt and Medal of Honor recipient.
I feel honored to have been able to visit this cemetery. It really put in perspective the ultimate price that was paid by these young men and women, and the absolute bravery they showed in what they faced was breathtaking.
References [ + ]