A Visit to the American Cemetery at Normandy
The battle belonged that morning to the thin wet line of khaki that dragged itself ashore on the channel coast of France.”
~ General Omar N. Bradley, U.S. First Army Commander
The city of Bayeux, France, prepares to welcome veterans, families and dignitaries from around the world for D-Day.
The 70th anniversary of D-Day on June 6, 2014, marks what may be the last chance for remaining World War II veterans to pay their respects to their fallen brothers (and a few sisters) at the scene of the historic invasion of Normandy. By nightfall of that day, 9,000 of the 100,000 Allied soldiers who made it ashore were dead or injured. Those who somehow survived soldiered inland to liberate France and help release the Nazis’ hold on Europe over the next two months.
History becomes personal at the Normandy American Cemetery’s Visitors’ Center, in videos of survivors’ experiences, accounts of victims’ family members and the letters of veterans who died that day. The most moving of these involve multiple losses–like the famous story told in the film, Saving Private Ryan–of how the Ryan family lost three of four sons in the invasion, and of the extraordinary lengths the Army took to bring the surviving one home. Bedford, Virginia, lost 19 of its 3,200 residents that day and 3 more in subsequent battles: the highest per-capita World War II loss of any U.S. town.
A Wreath at the Normandy American Cemetery Honors the 22 Bedford Soldiers Who Died
The common thread of loss and sacrifice binds past and present. Above the peaceful nature trail that winds down to the now-pristine sands of Omaha Beach, 9,387 grave markers line the bluff in lines like military regiments. An additional 1,557 names are inscribed on the Walls of the Missing in a semicircular garden.
Normandy American Cemetery
The dead came from towns, cities and farms all over the United States. Boys, for the most part, just barely men, they represented all races and creeds, who joined with Allied countries and French resistance fighters in what President Franklin D. Roosevelt called, “a fight to end conquest.” As General Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “They did it so that the world could be free.” This 172.5 acres of sadness allows infinite space for gratitude.