70th Anniversary D-Day: Omaha Beach and Normandy American Cemetery

Last month, the Husband and I traveled to Omaha Beach.  We toured Pointe du Hoc (which I posted about Thursday), Omaha Beach, and the American Cemetery at Normandy.

I have visited Arlington National Cemetery numerous times and each time I visited, I was overcome with a sense of gratitude, pride, and sadness.  I thought visiting Omaha Beach and the Normandy American Cemetery would invoke the same feelings, but I was wrong.

Standing on that beach and later surrounded by the crosses and Stars of David in the cemetery, I didn’t cry.

I felt…Small.  Miniscule. Lonely. Unworthy.

Standing on that beach and in that Cemetery, I could feel the bravado, fear, and determination that our soldiers felt during the Normandy Invasion and the following battles.

I felt as if I was standing next to an 18 year-old boy.

A boy who had never left his hometown in the States, who was shipped to England, trained to fight, placed on a boat to yet another foreign country, told almost nothing, and who was about to plunge headlong into the worst day of his life.

It would always be the worst day of his life – even if he did survive the war, nothing would be worse than this day.

Standing on that beach and in that Cemetery, I bet you, too, would feel him and be overwhelmed by the sadness, grateful for his bravado and astounded by his determination.  You would want to protect him.

And you, too, would feel unworthy of his sacrifice.

 

Arriving at Omaha Beach, we parked at the National Guard Memorial. Built upon a German Blockhouse, the memorial honors the “citizen-soldiers” of the United States who fought in France during WWI and WWII.

national-guard-memorial-omaha-beach

We were traveling on a cool day in May.  As we approached the beach, a light rain began to fall and the wind began to blow, similar conditions to the weather the day of the invasion 70 years ago.

omaha-beach-east
western facing view ohama beach towards Pointe du Hoc

 

omaha-beach-west
eastern facing view of omaha beach

 

omaha-beach-channel
omaha beach facing the english channel

Omaha Beach is actually a very stunning beach facing the very cold waters of the English Channel.  Before the German Occupation, the beach was a resort destination.

As I stood on the beach, I turned from the Channel to face the terrain, trying to envision what it would look like to approach this occupied land from the water.

omaha-beach-terrain

 

photo via National Archives
photo via National Archives

Time Life has a wonderful short film on how the invasion images below were captured and almost lost forever.  The photographer, Robert Capa was one of only four photographers credentialed to cover the Normandy Invasion and only 11 frames from three roles of 35mm film survived.

time-life-images

 

We left Omaha Beach and drove to the Normandy American Cemetery.  We approached the American Cemetery from a side entrance and I was struck by the french-style landscaping although the site was designed by an American and maintained by the United States.

entry-american-cemetery

As I mentioned before, I have visited Arlington National Cemetery numerous times, but I was not prepared for the different type of sadness I felt for those who had sacrificed their lives here and never returned home.

The site opened into a large semi-circle garden surrounded by The Walls of the Missing.  The names inscribed on the wall are of servicemen who remains were not recovered.

comrades-in-arms-listing

The names continued around the grounds.  Panel after panel of names of servicemen who’s remains were not recovered.  Totaling 1,557.

wall-of-uncovered-remains-american-cemetery

The Walls of The Missing surround semi-circle colonnade.

american-cemetery-welcome

Each side of the colonnade held maps of the Normandy Invasion which were carefully studied by all visitors.

amphibious-map-american-cemetery

And the ceilings were covered in this beautiful mosaic.

american-cemetery-rotunda-ceiling

We exited the colonnade and walked along the mall toward the chapel, surrounded by white marble crosses and Stars of David.

american-cemetery-grounds
overlooking the English Channel

 

american-cemetery-grounds-2

american-cemetery-grounds-3

 

At the end of the mall, we entered a very small chapel that holds about 10 people at a time.

 

interior-of-chapel

The Allied Forces flags were represented at the altar which reads,

“I give unto them eternal life and they shall never perish,”

a quote from John 10:28, King James Version.

 

The walls were also inscribed.

interior-chapel-2

I have researched this quote and was unable to find an exact Biblical reference.  I know it is a common line in various prayers and readings for memorial services.

 

The ceiling of the chapel is a mosaic depicting America (shown left) blessing her sons as they depart by sea and air and a grateful France (shown right) placing laurel wreaths on the dead.

interior-chapel-ceiling

 

We exited the chapel and stood at the rear of the building as it had started to rain again.  The gravesites continued behind the building.  Like in Arlington, the graves seem to go on forever.

american-cemetery-grounds-4

 

american-cemetery-grounds-5

Emotionally drained and slightly numb, I asked the Husband if we could return to the car.

As we approached the colonnade to leave, we studied the statue at the center, “The American Youth Rising from the Waves.”

The statue is surrounded by red marble in which bronze lettering states,

“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

american-cemetery-rotunda-statue

We stepped off the colonnade and were once again surrounded by the Walls of the Missing when a bugle began to play “Taps.”

Every visitor stopped and faced the statue.  A wreath ceremony was in progress.  Hats were removed and hands placed over hearts.  The bugle then played “The Star Spangled Banner.”

 

As the National Anthem ended, I noticed a quote engraved on the back of the colonnade facing the Walls of the Missing.  It reads,

“TO THESE WE OWE THE HIGH RESOLVE

THAT THE CAUSE FOR WHICH THEY DIED SHALL LIVE”

american-cemetery-welcome-rotunda-back

Amen.

 

 

Leave a Reply