One of just 14 American World War II Cemeteries constructed on foreign soil, the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is a beautiful, reflective site that attracts approximately one million visitors each year. Established on the 8th of June 1944 by the U.S. First Army, it was the first American cemetery on European soil in World War II. So, whether you are planning a visit or just want to learn more, here are some of the most interesting facts about the American Cemetery in Normandy.
7 Interesting Facts about the American Cemetery in Normandy
1. The American Cemetery in Normandy overlooks Omaha Beach
You’ll find the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer in France. It sits on a bluff high above the coast overlooking the famous Omaha Beach. The Allied forces used Omaha Beach as a landing area during the WWII D-Day invasion. The site contains not only graves but also a chapel, a garden dedicated to the missing and a memorial. There’s also a Visitor Centre too.
2. It contains the graves of over 9,000 American military personnel
The Normandy American Cemetery contains the graves of 9,386 American military personnel, most of whom died during the D-Day landings and ensuing operations. It is one of fourteen American World War II Cemeteries constructed on foreign soil. Among the graves are those of four women and 307 unknown soldiers. The headstones of the unknown soldiers read “Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms known but to God“.
3. Two of President Theodore Roosevelt’s children rest here
Buried in the cemetery are two children of President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1944, his son Theodore Jr died in Normandy. They buried him at Sainte-Mère-Église. Later they moved his body to the Normandy American Cemetery. His younger brother, Second Lieutenant Quentin Roosevelt died in action. He was a pilot in France during World War I and died in 1918 aged 20. His body was also moved to the Normandy American Cemetery and was re-interred beside his brother. Overall, the cemetery contains the graves of 45 pairs of brothers, including the Roosevelts. 30 brothers lie side by side. There are also the graves of a father and son, uncle and nephew and two pairs of cousins.
4. There is an impressive memorial
The semi-circular memorial contains maps and details of military operations. An orientation table overlooking Omaha Beach depicts the Normandy landings. In the middle of the memorial is a bronze statue called the “Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves.” Engraved below the statue is: “To these we owe the high resolve that the cause for which they died shall live.”
5. The Walls of the Missing feature the names of those missing in action
Located behind the memorial, you’ll find the Garden of the Missing. Here you’ll find the Walls of the Missing. Inscribed on the walls are the names of 1 557 people who are missing in action. Bronze rosettes mark the names of those since recovered and identified.
6. The grave markers are aligned westward
White Lasa marble headstones mark the graves. Latin crosses mark 9,238 graves denoting Protestants and Catholics. Stars of David mark 151 graves denoting those of the Jewish faith. There are no other markers as Catholic, Protestant and Jewish were the only religions recognised by the United States Army at the time. The markers all line up and face westwards, towards their American homeland. In the middle of the grave area is a circular chapel, which has a black marble altar. On the altar is the inscription: “I give them eternal life and they shall never perish”.
7. Two of the Niland brothers are here
The graves of Preston and Robert Niland are in the Normandy American Cemetery. The Nilands were four American brothers of Irish descent. Their story inspired the Steven Spielberg movie Saving Private Ryan.