American Monuments in Europe
There are noble American monuments on European soil that stand as a constant reminder of the hardships U.S. soldiers experienced during World War II. The war separated over a million soldiers from their families, bringing them to foreign soil in an effort to defeat Adolf Hitler on many fronts. Though America emerged victoriously, it was not without thousands of casualties. American soldiers are buried all across Europe after giving the ultimate sacrifice for their country. The perfect way to pay tribute to the fallen Americans who have come before us is by visiting these monuments throughout Europe.
Cambridge American Cemetery, England
Cambridge with its unspoiled countryside and Gothic architecture hosts a multitude of interesting sights that include the Ely Cathedral, Fitzwilliam Museum, and the Backs Gardens. Perhaps the most well known is Cambridge University, which was founded in the 13th-century by scholars who left Oxford. It was this university that donated The Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial.
Peacefully sitting on a slope and partially framed by woodland, The Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial site cover 30.5 acres. On this land rests 3,812 fallen Americans. The Walls of the Missing honors the memory of 5,127 people whose remains were not recovered. Most of the names represent those who died in the Battle of the Atlantic or in the strategic air bombardment of northwest Europe.
A lone flag stands before a sea of cross-marked graves displayed before it. The south side of the monument holds the Walls of the Missing. The far end includes a chapel, large military maps, stained glass windows and a mosaic ceiling honoring the dead of the air forces. The visitor center has interpretive exhibits to express the criticalness of the campaign that contributed to the Allied victory. This monument is a sacred meeting place to recall what brought over 3 million Americans to the British Isles during the war.
Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, France
Situated in northern France, the region of Normandy is home to cliff-ridden coastlines, the island of Mont-Saint-Michael, and the Rouen Cathedral. Most Americans are familiar with the beaches of Normandy from the invasion of Allies on D-Day in June of 1944 for the liberation of Europe from Nazi occupation.
The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is the first American cemetery to be established on European soil for World War II and is located in Colleville-sur-Mer. Expanding over a vast 172.5 acres, this cemetery hosts 9,385 graves of the military dead, mostly from D-Day landings and the operations that followed. The Walls of the Missing hold an additional 1,557 names.
Of all the American Battle Monuments Commission cemeteries, Normandy is the most visited, with around one million visitors each year. Located on a cliff overlooking Omaha Beach and the English Channel, this memorial features a semicircular colonnade with galleries at either end documenting military operations. In the center of the colonnade is the bronze statue, “Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves.” There is also a visitor’s center, reflecting pool, chapel and statues that represent the United States and France. The visitor’s center offers three films and several exhibits. The white crosses face the United States and remind us of the thousands of American soldiers who lost their lives on European soil.
Bastogne War Museum and Mardasson Memorial, Belgium
The lush, green, forested landscape of Bastogne in the Ardennes mountain range was once ravaged by war during the famous Battle of the Bulge. During this time, German forces attacked American troops in hopes of regaining control of the Ardennes. After weeks of being under siege, the American soldiers received reinforcements and were finally able to overcome the Germans, despite thousands of casualties.
The Bastogne War Museum is dedicated to remembering the events of World War II, specifically The Battle of the Bulge. This modern museum features multi-sensory, three- dimensional scenes to help visitors get a feel for the intensity of war. It also has depictions of how civilians lived during the occupation, the battle and afterward.
Not far from the museum sits the Mardasson Memorial, honoring the Americans killed during the Battle of the Bulge. It also celebrates the bond between Belgium and the United States forged in 1945. The monument is in the shape of a five-point star and has a circular open-air interior with the story of the battle engraved in gold on the walls. A spiral staircase leads to the top of the monument, giving visitors a panoramic view of the area and a feel for the layout during the siege.
For a more active tour, consider taking part in the annual Bastogne March in December. The march itself originated in 1977 when a former member of General Patton’s 3rd Army began walking with friends. WWII Veterans joined the walking group and began an informal march around the perimeter of Bastogne to honor the memory of their comrades. Nowadays, the number of walkers nears 4,000 with funds that are raised to put towards transporting veterans to D.C. in order to visit various monuments.
Sicily-Rome American Cemetery, Italy
A mere 37 miles south of Rome on the Mediterranean Sea, the town of Nettuno is home to the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery. A popular tourist destination, this town is home to medieval streets and a castle dating back to 1503. Elaborate gardens grace the landscape of Villa Costaguti-Borghese, a protected nature reserve. The cemetery sits at the north end of this historic town.
An expanse of headstones resting under Roman pines from 7,760 American military war dead graces this 77-acre cemetery. The chapel, with its white marble walls, hosts 3,095 names of further missing soldiers. The individuals memorialized here fought for the liberation of Sicily, during the landings and fighting in the Salerno area and in the landings at Anzio Beach.
Filled with art, a central mall leads to the memorial. The chapel is on the south end, with a map room on the north with a bronze relief map and four fresco maps. Beautiful Italian gardens filled with flowers portray star shapes that add to the calming ambiance of the somber area. The visitor center focuses on education through stories, photographs, films and interactive displays. American flags are proudly displayed and wave in the ocean breeze. The white crosses stand as a constant reminder of the lives sacrificed.
Many of the soldiers who chose to defend the liberties of the American people did not live to tell the tale. These monuments allow their memories to live on forever through the beauty of their gardens, crosses and buildings. Touring these European monuments are a great way to explore the countries that combined forces with the United States during the difficult times of World War II. Pay tribute to these heroes and everything they sacrificed for the United States and our future.