is in Normandy
in the Department of Calvados
and is well known throughout the world as being the site of the D-Day landing
of American forces on June 6, 1944. It is also the site of the American Cemetery
where 9,387 American Service men and women are buried,
each with a separate white marble grave marker. This number makes it the largest American armed forces burial site. The cemetary also
has a memorial, a chapel and a "Garden of the Missing".
We visited on our first trip in 2002. One day we drove along the invasion beaches
from the British beaches in the east, starting in
Oistreham, ending west of Omaha Beach at Pointe du Hoc, the site of a US Ranger attack
in search of artillary guns that proved to
be missing. Driving along the road that parallels the water we could see that the land on the landside on our left was very low in
the British and Canadian sectors, the Sword, Gold and Juno beaches. This meant that whatever German forces there were on that landside
did not have a high vantage point from which to aim at the invaders. We stopped at Arromanches to view the so-called Mulberries
floating docks that had been towed over from England to be used by supply ships. These had been sunk by a sudden storm not long after
D-day and still could be seen sticking out of the water not very far off shore. There also is a museum
that describes them on the
beach at Arromanches.
When we arrived at Omaha beach the land side had become high cliffs. It was on top of these that
German gunners shot at the Americans trying to land and establish a beachhead. Today the cliff overlooking the beach is a lookout
point at the end of the main pathway in the American Cemetery, with the monument on the right and the grave markers on the left as
you walk from the reception center to the water. We could not help but notice that most of the people we met while walking around
were speaking French. There were almost no English speakers that day.
On that first trip Ron only had a video camera and
tried to film what we saw. But as he had to stop when he found that the camera was shaking too much because he was sobbing so
hard. It just came on very suddenly. That place, with so many white crosses and a few stars of David, just has that effect
Our next trip there was in 2006, on Memorial Day as it turned out. Ceremonies were held there, but since they were
on the Sunday before Memorial Day, we did not see them. But we did see the American and French flags at half staff. And
all of the over 9000 grave markers had small American and French flags stuck into the grass in front. The flags had been placed
there by French and American (from Heidelburg, Germany) Boy Scouts. And many of the graves were also decorated with fresh flowers.
Very moving and very dignified.
When we went on to Point du Hoc on our first trip, the most striking impressions were of the
terrain which still looked like it had been bombed heavily, huge craters everywhere, 52 years after D-day. And of the concrete
bunkers wherethe guns had been before the Rangers successfully climbed the tall cliff, taking heavy losses.