American cemetery Normandy

American cemetery Normandy ()

There are quite a few American monuments in Europe that stand as a reminder of the hardships U.S. soldiers have experienced while serving overseas.

The sites in this article focus on American participation in World War II; these are the largest sites that pay tribute to both survivors and the fallen Americans from 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 the Allies on D-Day in June of 1944.

The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial was the first American cemetery to be established in Europe after 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 the D-Day landings and other operations that followed. The Walls of the Missing hold an additional 1,557 names.

Of all the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) 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 purposefully face the United States as a reminder of where these fallen soldiers came from.

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 rest 3,812 fallen Americans. The Walls of the Missing on the south side honor 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 the sea of cross-marked graves before it. The far end of the monument includes a chapel, large military maps, stained glass windows and a mosaic ceiling honoring the dead from the air forces. The visitor center has interpretive exhibits about 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.

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 depicts how civilians lived during the occupation, how they handled battle and how they adapted 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 shaped like 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 event has become known as NUTS Weekend, named after Brigadier General Anthony Clement 'Nuts' McAuliffe. The weekend focuses on the Battle of the Bulge and features talks, demonstrations, meet & greets, reenactments and more.

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 grace 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 on the south end has a map room with a bronze relief map and four fresco maps of battle scenes. 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 American soldiers who fought in WWII did not return home. These monuments allow their memories to live on through the beauty of their gardens, cemetaries and buildings.

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