The Beaches of Normandy Weekend: Part 2

Trip Start Sep 13, 2012
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Trip End Dec 21, 2013


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Flag of France  ,
Saturday, November 3, 2012

After the museum, we took a ten minute drive through some tiny village streets, (in the huge coach bus), to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. This is where all of the American soldiers are buried who lost their lives during the D-day landings and and ensuing operations. The cemetery was established by the U.S. First Army in June, 1944, and was the first American cemetery on European soil in WWII. The seemingly endless rows of white crosses extend for 172.5 acres and contain almost 20,000 graves of our military dead. The cemetery only houses four women; all red cross workers who died trying to save the lives of soldiers on the field. There is also only one person buried here who did not die in WWII. TDR's eldest son, Quentin, died in WWI, but the family wanted him to be buried with his younger brother, Teddy Jr., who died during the D-day landings. Teddy Jr.'s grave marker is unlike most of the other crosses in the cemetery because the writing is filled in with gold, and engraved down the vertical section of the cross are the words "Medal of Honor". We did not venture to find his grave marker while we were there because there are just too many to look through. 

There were some elderly men in Veteran caps walking through the rows with their families. Jane told us that sometimes elderly veterans come to find friends they knew from the war. Sometimes it's old women laying flowers at the stones of men they still love.

Walking through the cemetery it is hard not to be overwhelmed by the shear number of gravestones, all white, all the same. I didn't realize until we got there, but all of the stones have names written on them. On each stone is the name, rank, birth place, and death date, of the person buried beneath it. For some reason, until I walked between the countless rows of white stone, I thought that the crosses were just a representation of the dead, blank slate, and that the bodies were all flown home and buried on U.S. soil. I wasn't entirely wrong, though; the cemetery is, legally, U.S. soil; it was like we were going home.  
 
The memorial at one end of the cemetery contains large maps and narratives of the military operations leading up to and through the victory of the Allied forces in Europe and Japan. The semi-circle monument surrounds a bronze statue of a naked man known as the "Spirit of American Youth." Behind the memorial statue is the Wall of the Missing, also a semi-circle garden. Inscribed on the walls are 1,557 names. Over the years, during constructions and searches, some of the bodies belonging to these names have been recovered and identified. When someone is found, their name gets a bronze roseette next to it; there are only about a dozen names on the wall with roseettes next to them. The wall is similar to the one in Washington D.C. for all those lost in Vietnam; it emits the same feeling of overwhelming loss.  

There are two structures beyond the burial area: a circular chapel and, at the far end, granite statues representing the United States and France. Haley and I went into the little chapel. It has flags hanging on either side of the alter, (something you don't see in any other church): the American flag, Canadian, French, and Military. It is the perfect place for a soldier to pray to his god and country. I noticed that, unlike the Nazi policy of discrimination, the Americans and French celebrated their soldiers' religious differences; they buried their Jewish soldiers beneath Jewish stars. 

The cemetery is a very quiet place. Not many people spoke, and if they did, it was very quietly. The area is so extensive that speaking at a normal volume would not disturb anyone else, but it seems to be out respect for the dead that no one speaks; it is quiet to let them rest. The cemetery sits only yards from the beach where these men lost their lives. It seems almost poetic. War and loss are the same throughout time. It doesn't matter the reason for the conflict or the loss of life; the result is the same. In the end, we will always be standing in a field of the dead, overlooking the ocean.   
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