Saturday, November 10, 2012

Normandy Beaches & The American Cemetery

{Omaha Beach, Normandy, France}
I thought it appropriate to share our two days at Omaha Beach in Normandy in honor of Veteran's Day this weekend. We added a few days to our Loire Valley vacation to head all the way up to the landing beaches of D-Day and to visit the American Cemetery there.

{Omaha Beach, Normandy, France}

Every American who died in France during World War II had the right to be buried there. The cemetery land is considered American soil, given to us by the French government as a thank you and a eternal tribute and resting place for the 9,387 American soldiers who died in France during the length of the war. It is a beautiful place, perfectly kept and laid out with huge pine trees and the beach tumbling and crashing below the cliffs.

{American Cemetery, Normandy, France}

{American Cemetery Normandy, France}

{Reflecting Pool and Chapel}
The museum there is a rich testament to those who lost their lives and to the incredible plans and war strategy that led to the liberation of France.

{American Museum, My Family and Two Flags}
A film featuring some of the soldiers buried there, their letters and stories told in their own words and through family members who lost them in the ultimate sacrifice brings the personal stories to life. One of the women, a sister I think, said the most touching thing, something like, 'we could have buried him at home, back here in the United States, but in the end we felt he earned his place there in France'.

{these markers help to locate individual graves}
That feeling pervades the museum and cemetery and the respect and honor given the 9,387 who are buried there is palpable. As you walk through a granite hallway from the museum to the grounds, a voice reads every name of every soldier who is buried there, in continuum. A lone rifle with a helmet hanging from it stands in a glass case.

There are cases filled with the packs of food and kit provided to the troops. Also, a silk parachute and flight boots, a medical kit of bandages, sutures, and a vial of morphine, maps and hand grenades, and talismans, all under glass, there for us to see.

{Littlest, in awe}
Walking around the cemetery grounds we looked at the names, ranks, places of birth and dates of death etched into the white crosses and Stars of David. There are 9,238 crosses and 149 Stars of David. Ma Fille was struck by one who died on Christmas Day, 1944. The war was all but over, he'd almost made it, but that wasn't what made her sad about that particular day. Her childhood innocence only considered the day, Christmas, and how it is for presents and family and love and not for dying.

{Monument at American Cemetery}
It was moving beyond what I can describe here.

{Cemetery Beach}

We also visited the German bunker at Pointe du Hoc, placed between the two American landing points of Utah and Omaha beach. The craters from Allied pre-landing bombings sit empty and caved in. There was a group of French high school students there on a field trip and they ran around, taking notes in their cahiers, screaming into the wind and giggling, learning how their history and ours intersected in such a world-altering way.

{plaque at Pointe du Hoc}
{German bunker, French students filling in their notebooks}

{bomb craters}
{the beach below and cliffs that American troops scaled while under fire}
On our way there in the car we listened to this podcast by Bill Moyers, imagining the life-threatening danger and unimaginable courage that took place along the roads we were driving. It happened to feature Texans, by some strange coincidence, and we all listened, tears pricking our eyes, the Middlest saying, 'Do they mean it was right there by that tree or bush or dirt road?!' History came alive. 

We are protected by so much. We have so much.
Thank you to all of you who put your personal lives and liberty at risk for the rest of us. We owe you all a never-ending debt of gratitude and respect for the sacrifices you and your families have made and continue to make.


  1. Wow, Aidan - I'm awestruck! You have me in tears just reading your account - and with your photos - stunning! I've heard that it's a very moving place and we look forward to bringing our family up there sometime. Thank you for bringing it to life and honoring all of those soldiers who sacrificed their lives for our country!

  2. A most appropriate post for Veterans' Day. Seeing the rows of tombstones all in a row along the Atlantic coast is one of the move moving sights I have ever seen in my life. We visited there on a spring day in a driving rain storm but that didn't deter at all from the visit to those grounds where so many young men on both sides lost their lives.

  3. Bonjour Aidan. I am happy you got to take your little family there. The best way for History to come alive, you are right. My American-born son has visited that area on a couple of occasions, and I remember how quiet he got while we walked the grounds of the American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer. Many people in the US would be surprised to know how many Frenchmen and their families visit the Normandy coast every year; ensuring France will never forget. The men (Americans, Britons, Canadians) who landed in Normandy on D-Day and fought the battle of Normandy during the summer of 1944 were some of the bravest and most deserving of all. We lead such comfortable, cushioned lives; it is easy to take their sacrifice for granted. But we do not forget. Well done, Texan girl. :-) Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

  4. Great post...we all need to remember..

    I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the name of the soldier who died on Dec. 25.....I had a friend in school with the exact same name, I don't know if they were related.

  5. What a wonderful & appropriate post. I have just watched the Remembance Day service in London like I do each year. I have an uncle buried in a War Cemetery not far from Caen & one year me, my mum, dad & aunt visited. He was my mum's favourite uncle & he had been best man at my aunt's wedding. He was in the Welch guards & died 2 weeks before the end of the war in Europe which I thought so sad. It was the first time any of the family had visited the grave & I nearly lost it completely when I read what my Mum had written in the visitor's book "At last I have found you". Thank you for this post.

  6. Sorry that should have read "my mum's favourite brother".

  7. What a stirring post. I used to teach a baking class at a seniors residence and one of my bakers, a man named Robert, fought in Normandy. I don't know how he survived. He never talked about the horrors of war, just about the good times with his war buddies. This is bravery.

  8. Loveliest Veterans' Day made it come alive for me too!!!

  9. There was an article on the BC radio yesterday which said that hundreds of soldiers died on VE day in 1918. How sad is that? I would also like to extend thanks to the War Graves Commission and the dozens of people who tend these sites of remembrance so beautiful.

  10. Mem,
    Surely that wasn't someone from the same family?! Do you mean the one with the rose?
    aidan x

  11. Tricia,
    Thank you for sharing that story. It brought tears to my eyes. There are so many touching memories out there regarding this and all of the other wars fought.
    I'll write a happier post this week. I promise!

  12. Jennifer,
    I'm glad you enjoyed it. I always loved going to the nursing home to visit my Godmother's mother when I was a little girl. I knew there were important stories there in all of those lives lived.
    Have a wonderful week. Next post, Chateaux one-by-one!
    aidan xo

  13. We visited Normandy and the cemeteries as a family when I was young. I'd really like to take my boys there too, so they understand what happened, but it's sooo far away. I was nearer when I lived in London!

    Great post Aidan, I remember it as an incredibly moving place.

    btw, did you know there's a little American cemetery on the way to Lac de Salagou?

  14. It's hard to imagine so much loss until you stand in front of row upon row of graves. It really brings it home, to the kids as well. Glad you got to visit x x

  15. Gorgeous and sobering. Thank you for sharing this post- one of my favorites you have ever done.

  16. What a beautiful post - it brought tears to my eyes as well! Your description and photos really did bring the place to life for me.

  17. I visited the beaches 3 years ago, with reluctance I might add. In fact, it is probably one of my most memorable moments here in France and so moving. Your lovely post brought it home again. Thanks Aidan.


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