Standing at the base of the 22-foot bronze statue titled The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves at the Normandy American Cemetery is something every American should experience.
Face the reflecting pool and listen to the haunting sounds of the chapel carillon at the center of nearly 10,000 harmonious white crosses and Stars of David honoring our military forces in World War II. Most of the soldiers lost their lives during the D-Day Landings and ensuing operations in 1944.
The American Cemetery and Memorial is landscape architecture at its finest; a perfect blending of earth, sea and sky where serenity has a sound of its own; where each marker faces in the same direction….toward home.
On June 8, 1944, a short distance to the west of the present-day memorial, the U.S. First Army established a temporary burial ground. It was the first American cemetery on European soil in World War II.
Situated on a bluff overlooking the English Channel and Omaha Beach, one of five landing beaches during the invasion of Normandy, the 172-acre cemetery is managed and maintained by the United States government.
The land occupied by the memorial, like all other World War I and II cemeteries in France, is granted a perpetual concession free of any charges or taxes to the United States.
In each case, the American flag waves over the memorial.
About a hundred and fifty yards north of the statue and its loggia is a semicircular overlook that opens out the hills leading down to the beach and the English Channel beyond.
Pictures and descriptions simply cannot depict the awesome expanse of territory military personnel had to negotiate under torrents of relentless machine gun fire from above.
Omaha Beach is a broad expanse of sand stretching approximately 200-yards before reaching a semblance of cover provided by thick layers of foliage and underbrush that lead upward to the site of the present-day cemetery.
The overlook now nestles atop the hill at the spot where American forces eventually broke through, after endless hours under siege, to secure the beach.
Each marker is carefully secured beneath the surface of the soil to ensure that all gravestones will remain at a specific uniform height in perpetuity.
Not all of the soldiers who died during the invasion of Normandy are buried there.
As with all overseas cemeteries, next of kin is given the option of having their loved ones returned for interment in the United States or at the nearest overseas cemetery.
Of the thousands of Americans killed during the campaign in Normandy, nearly 1,600 were either missing in action or unidentified. These soldiers are honored by inscriptions on the walls of a semicircular garden to the east of the colonnade that faces the reflecting pool.
The loggia which houses the bronze statue of American youth is flanked on each side with maps and narratives describing the military operations.
Directly opposite the entrance to the old visitor’s center is a time capsule covered by a pink granite marker which reads, “To be opened June 6, 1944.”
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the D-Day Landings and the Battle of Normandy.
In the center of the marker is a bronze plaque featuring the five stars of a General of the Army containing the following inscription:
“In memory of General Dwight D. Eisenhower and the forces under his command. This sealed capsule containing news reports of the June 6, 1944 Normandy landings is placed here by the newsmen who were here, June 6, 1969.”
The cemetery is open to the public each day except Christmas and January 1. Hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. between April 15 and September 15, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the rest of the year.
It is also open on host country holidays.
Staff members are on duty at the visitor center to answer questions and escort relatives to grave and memorial sites.
Too often Americans feel unappreciated for the commitments they have made to preserve freedom throughout the world. A visit to the region of Normandy and the D-Day Landing sites will change your perspective forever.
Some seven decades after the events which liberated France and Europe from the horrors of a world at war, the people of Normandy still say thank you to Americans and those who made the ultimate sacrifice on their behalf.
Visit Normandy and its American Cemetery at Omaha Beach and do not be surprised to see bouquets of flowers at the base of The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves. They will likely be left by an anonymous citizen of France with four simple words marking the tribute: “We have not forgotten.”
Peabod is Bob Taylor, owner of Taylored Media Services in Charlotte, NC. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com) which offers tours and travel information for people who share his wanderlust spirit.
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