The American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer bears silent witness to the fact that the preservation of democracies in Europe is central to the national security interests of the United States. It also testifies to the price of ignoring that reality.
Any thought or suggestion of the U. S. abandoning NATO or weakening our commitment to it because Albania or Luxembourg spends only 1% of GDP on defense is bat shit crazy. If every country in NATO spent 2% of GDP on defense, the U. S. defense budget would not (and probably should not) be one penny less. The United States is in NATO to protect its own national security and economic interests.
The American Cemetery
Prior to visiting the American Cemetery my “get the heck out of Paris and see some of the countryside” tour stopped at Pointe du Hoc and Omaha Beach. The last stop on the group day tour was the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer. It overlooks Omaha Beach.
The Cemetery, officially the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, is situated on 172 acres and contains the remains of 9,381 American servicemen and 4 American women. The vast majority died on D-Day or in the Normandy campaign. The cemetery also has a Wall of the Missing displaying the names of 1,557 who died in the battles but were never found or identified as of the date the wall was built.
Of the American women buried here, one was a Red Cross worker who died in a plane crash. Three were from 6888th Postal Directory Battalion, the only all-female, African American unit deployed in Europe in WWII. Those women died in a jeep accident in July 1945.
The cemetery is open to the public daily, except December 25 and January 1. Hours of operation are 09:00 to 18:00 from April 15 to September 15, and 09:00 to 17:00 the rest of the year. There are about one million visitors each year. The cemetery was dedicated in 1956.
Visitors Center and Cemetery Tour
A Visitors Center opened in 2007. It displays exhibits related to the invasion and shows three movies. Staff at the center are available to escort relatives to graves or the memorial sites.
You can download the Normandy American Cemetery app. It can serve as a tour guide for a visit.
The centerpiece of the cemetery is a semi-circular colonnade with rooms at each end containing maps and descriptions of the military campaign in Normandy.
A reflecting pool leads from the memorial to the grave sites and chapel.
The grounds are immaculate but it is perfectly permissible to wander through the grave sites. A serene and beautiful walkway meanders along the north side of the cemetery next to Omaha Beach. The path in the photo below served as the stage for the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan.
A large table-top map next to the walkway depicts the landings on D-Day.
Theodore Roosevelt, III, the son of President Theodore Roosevelt is one of the more famous interments. Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt led the first wave at Utah Beach. He died of a heart attack in Normandy in July 1944. Also buried here are two of the four Niland brothers whose story was loosely depicted in the movie Saving Private Ryan. Sgt. Frederick Niland of the 101st Airborne Division was evacuated from Normandy after two of his brothers died in the invasion on June 6 and 7, 1944 and his other brother was shot down over Burma. Although presumed dead, he wandered the jungle for several days before being captured by the Japanese. He survived the war.
The American Battle Monuments Commission does an outstanding job of overseeing the care of this and other cemeteries it manages. A couple of years ago, I visited the Manila American Cemetery and Monument in Fort Bonifacio, Philippines, just outside Manila. Over 37,000 fallen Americans from the Pacific Theater in WWII are buried there. It is hard to believe, but that cemetery is kept in even better condition than the Normandy cemetery.
Last year, at the Columbarium at Arlington National Cemetery, we laid to rest my father, Sherman J. Polley, a Bronze Star recipient and veteran of U. S. Army operations in the Pacific Theater of WWII. The military provided a very respectful and moving internment even though he had not served in the Army in over 60 years.
Lunch in a Chateau
The American Cemetery was the last tour stop. But before returning to Paris, the tour included lunch at a lovely chateau near Arromanches.
Lunch was in three courses and included wine.
Visiting the Normandy beaches and walking through the American Cemetery and visitors center provides a sense of history and a perspective that goes far beyond what books and articles provide. This tour was a moving experience that enhanced my appreciation for the freedom Americans enjoy and the necessity to confront internal and external threats to freedom and democracy long before they can damage the institutions of democracy or ever again come close to requiring sacrifices like the Normandy Invasion.
Other post about this trip to Paris: