Visiting the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial
In the early, pre-dawn hours of darkness Tuesday, June 6, 1944, more than 130,000 Allied troops made their way across the frigid waters of the English Channel and through clouded skies from southern England to the cliffs and dunes of Normandy in northern France. Among these troops were more than 70,000 Americans. Precise planning, carefully executed diversion tactics and demanding training led up to these moments. Operation Overlord, also known as D-Day or the Invasion of Normandy, had begun.
Divided into five sections, the now-infamous Gold, Juno, Omaha, Sword and Utah Beaches became the site of the largest naval, air and land operation in history. American forces were assigned to Omaha and Utah, while British, Canadian, Free France and other Allied troops took Gold, Juno and Sword. As U.S. forces advanced on Utah Beach, they were met with somewhat light resistance. However, their sister forces at Omaha Beach met heavy German artillery and sustained staggering losses.
With mounting casualties and escalating death toll, on June 8, 1944, the American St. Laurent Cemetery was established as the first American cemetery in Europe during World War II, just a stone’s throw from where the first waves of the U.S. First Army came ashore. With 9,380 graves and the names of 1,557 missing engraved on the walls, this cemetery is now known as the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. As we approach the 75th anniversary of D-Day, many will make the trek to pay their respects and honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial
With more than one million visitors annually, the cemetery and memorial is the most visited American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) is entrusted with. The present-day 172.5-acre site is located just east of the original landing site and is perched upon a cliff with sweeping panoramas of Omaha Beach and the English Channel. Visitors can quietly reflect in the serene garden surrounded by the Walls of the Missing, or pay silent tribute among the rows of stark white crosses dotting the landscape. Each of the 9,380 graves faces westward toward the United States. Among those buried at Normandy American Cemetery, are three Medal of Honor recipients — 1st Lt. Jimmie Monteith, Jr., TSgt. Frank D. Peregory, and Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. Roosevelt’s younger brother Quentin (who was killed in WWI), was exhumed and later interred next to his older brother at Normandy.
In 2007, a state-of-the-art Visitor Center opened at the site. Exhibits included personal narratives, artifacts and interactive displays. Also included were three films: “Letters,” “On their Shoulders,” and “OK, Let’s Go.” In preparation for the impending anniversary, ABMC is completing a total overhaul of the exhibits and displays. The Visitor Center closed for renovation Feb. 4, 2019 and is expected to re-open early May. However, the cemetery and memorial are still open to the public.
Know before you go
- Admission to Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is free. Opening hours are 9am-6pm April 15 through Sept. 15, and 9am-5pm the remainder of the year. It is open to the public every day except Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Admission stops 15 minutes prior to close. Admission to the Visitor Center is also free.
- Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is located in Colleville-sur-Mer, approximately 170 miles west-northwest of Paris. The nearest towns for lodging are Bayeux, Port-en-Bessin or Caen. There is a parking lot just outside the site, or you can also take the bus (line 70) from Bayeux.
- The direct pathway from the site to Omaha Beach is closed. However, visitors may use nearby public beach access to get to the beach.
- Crowds are expected surge closer to June 6. Upwards of 75,000 visitors are expected, including many heads of state. There will be re-enactments, including a cross-channel flight display and parachute landings the day of the anniversary.
- To avoid crowds and still enjoy the D-Day Festival (runs from May 25-June 16), visit before or after June 6. There will be plenty of festivities happening each day. Or, consider booking a local tour. At the time of publication, there were still plenty of spots available through travel sites such as tripadvisor.com and viator.com.
- For more information, including service times, visit www.abmc.gov.
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