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Jaunt to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial

The American Cemetery sign

I wanted to save writing about our jaunt to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial this past summer for a special occasion. Veteran’s Day presented the perfect opportunity. However, I wasn’t able to get it posted in time, so sadly I’m a day late.

I’ve always wanted to visit Normandy period, and it wouldn’t have been a complete experience without paying homage to the fallen soldiers at the cemetery. However, just as I wasn’t sure I’d ever want to see Ground Zero because of how it might affect me, that was my same trepidation when thinking of visiting the American Cemetery at Normandy.

I burst into tears within two minutes of entering the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. I had my pockets packed with tissues the morning we boarded our tour bus in Le Havre to set off for our Normandy excursion, figuring I’d have a similar reaction. After all, we were going to be walking on ground where history had actually been made, not just visiting displays in a museum about it all. (In addition to the cemetery we visited Pointe du Hoc, Arrowmanches, and an Omaha Beach memorial.)

As I expected, I needed the tissues.

Tourists amongst the graves
Tourists amongst the graves
Normandy cemetery 2
The Normandy American Cemetery has 9,387 headstone. 9,238 are Latin Crosses. 149 are Stars of David.
Graves near the sea
These graves are closest to the sea below.

But much to my surprise it wasn’t the neatly spaced white grave markers that soon came into view upon entering the cemetery grounds that got to me, as I’d anticipated they would. I did get choked up, but what sparked the most emotion was the Garden of the Missing.

The Garden of the Missing

Garden of the Missing
Garden of the Missing – The wall holds “tablets” of the names of those missing in action.

I didn’t even realize we were in the Garden of the Missing until after we exited it though. I just knew the tour guide had emphasized we visit the section behind the war memorial, and she’d said something about “hauntingly solemn garden” and “missing” but it didn’t all fully compute in my head until after.

The Memorial at the Normandy American Cemetery
The Memorial at the Normandy American Cemetery
Backside of the Memorial at the Normandy American Cemetery
Backside of the Memorial at the Normandy American Cemetery

When I finally realized that the hushed, serene, neatly kept courtyard garden enclosed by stone walls etched with names (1,557 of them) honored the missing in action, I experienced a heartache unlike any I’d ever felt before. The thought of so many soldiers’ bodies never being found, never to be laid to rest, their families, friends and other loved ones never getting closure…the only way to let all the sadness out that I suddenly felt was via tears.

A section of tablet in the Garden of the Missing.
A section of tablet in the Garden of the Missing.

However, I didn’t learn until after our visit that some of the names on the walls had bronze rosettes next to them. That signified that later their bodies were recovered, identified and buried. But I was also told there are still more names without rosettes than with. Tragic.

(Side Note: I didn’t take many pictures of the tablets, but you can see an example of two rosettes in the image above. But it sort of emphasizes the point that most names, and therefor families, were not lucky enough to know their soldier’s remains were ever found.)

Close up of one of the tablets in the Garden of the Missing.
Close up of one of the tablets in the Garden of the Missing. (Sans any rosettes, by the way.)

The Visitor Center and Museum

Our visit to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial was one of the most memorable, moving experiences of any place we’ve visited yet. In addition to the graves and memorial, there’s also a wonderful museum inside the visitor center.

Museum (aka Visitor Center) entrance.
Museum (aka Visitor Center) entrance.
American Battle Monuments Commission
The American Battle Monuments Commission is responsible for maintaining the Normandy American Cemetery (as well as other cemeteries).
Normandy American Cemetery visitor center entrance exhibits
The first few exhibits upon entering the visitor center.
Lower Level
We were surprised, yet happy, to learn there was more because there wasn’t much when we first walked in and were going to be annoyed that’s what we waited in line to see.
Visitor Centre Normandy American cemetery steps
Blurry shot of the stairs that took us down to the main displays and theater in the visitor center.
Normandy Visitor Center display cases
Display cases with artifact, anecdotes, stats, and facts from the D-Day invasion.
Normandy Visitor Center info cases
Displays also shared timelines, key events, and other information about the D-Day operation.
Normandy American Cemetery visitor center movie displays
There were also movies playing on screens situated among the displays. Old footage showed the plight the people of occupied Normandy had to endure while under Nazi siege. This image particularly tugged at my heartstrings.

My only regret is that the excursion we were on didn’t allow enough time to fully explore the entire cemetery. We were given about an hour and a half, which allowed us enough time to see the overlook, but not walk down the path that wound to Omaha Beach below. (Well, we could’ve, but we wouldn’t have had time for anything else.) We saw only a couple of sections worth of graves. And we had very limited time in the museum. Another hour would’ve been good.

Tip to Travelers: Part of why an hour and a half on a tour wasn’t enough was because of the long security line to enter the museum. That ate up 20-30 minutes of our visit right there. If you have less interest in seeing the graves, my advice would be to head to the museum first, then stroll the memorial, graves, and Garden of the Missing after. (Also, bathroom lines will eat up 5-10 minutes of your time too.)

Additional Photos

Normandy American Cemetery entrance column
One of the columns at the entrance to the Normandy American Cemetery.
Path to Omaha Beach overlook
The path to the overlook and Omaha Beach below.
Omaha Beach Overlook
A paved path winds down through the shrubs to Omaha Beach.
Flags on Normandy American Cemetery memorial
The countries involved in the D-Day operations memorialized in the memorial at the Normandy American Cemetery.
Map inside memorial at Normandy American Cemetery.
A map on the Memorial depicts all of the operations that took place in Normandy on D-Day and afterwards until the end of the war.

 

Stars on Normandy American Cemetery memorial ceiling .
Stars on the ceiling in the Memorial.
Jewish grave in Normandy American Cemetery.
The first Jewish grave I noticed.
I couldn't help but wonder who had left the stones on this Jewish grave. A family member or someone wanting to show respect for the dead soldier buried there?
I couldn’t help but wonder who had left the stones on this Jewish grave. A family member or a thoughtful stranger just wanting to show respect for the dead soldier buried there?
An unknown soldier at Normandy American Cemetery.
An unknown soldier whose remains could not be identified. I’d been holding the tears at bay up until this point. (We hadn’t visited the Garden of the Missing yet.) The words on this cross was what made me finally break down in the cemetery.
Eisenhower quote inside visitor center
One of the quotes found inside the visitor center.
German Army Field Marshall quote
Even words from the other side can be found in the displays inside the museum.
Soil for our dead quote
Blessings on the lives of all those who died to secure freedom not just for United States citizens, but to restore it to those who had it taken away from them during World War II.
Courtney Mroch
Courtney Mroch, otherwise known as HJ's Ambassador of Dark and Paranormal Tourism, is an author, traveler, and ghost enthusiast. When she's not writing, jaunting, or planning her next trip, it's a safe bet you'll find her on a tennis court somewhere. She currently resides in Nashville, Tennessee.
http://www.courtneymroch.com

4 thoughts on “Jaunt to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial

  1. I was here last week February 26th 2016. I have some curious pics three exactly that there are odd bright green orbs. Two are in the trees. I took a this during day light hours at 4pm. My husband was standing next to me. It was in the trees at the back of the cemetery. Has anyone else had this happen. I want someone to look at these pics. They creek me out.

  2. Courtney. I just saw this response. I posted 3 raw pics in your Facebook page. And I added three more of the zoomed in on each pic. Let me know what you think. It’s in the visitor portion on your fb page. I think it’s the top post. Thanks. I appreciate it. I have searched everywhere on fb and on the web for other pics like this and can’t find anything like this anywhere.

  3. I sent Lon a Private message in Facebook with the same pics I posted to your fb page. I would be interested to hear y’all feedback. This has literally haunted me since I discovered them. (No pun intended.). And I think I have more than just these three. It started on the first stop at dawn in the German cemetery. None were this big. But I take two-three pics of every shot to make sure I have a decent pic especially when the sun is in my eyes. I use my iPhone for everything. Even tho I have a nice professional camera and lenses- the iPhone takes great shots and I don’t have to lug around equipment. I have literally taken over 10,000+ pics in 5 different countries outside of the states, have been to every major city center in the States and I have never had anything like this before or after. I took 1500+ pics on this trip. And I found one green smudge at the beginning of the day and have several more. I discounted them as maybe lens flares- even tho they don’t look like this. The ones in the tree line behind the chapel at the American cemetery are the most fantastic ones because they are illuminated behind branches and trees. And like I may have mentioned. There wasn’t any man-made light on at 4:05pm. It was the darkest in the shadows behind the chapel and out of the wind. All I wanted to do is to get artistic shots of the grave markers behind the trees. I didn’t know I captured this and I definitely didn’t see it when I took the pics. I would have investigated right then and there if I had seen this. I hope you see my post on your fb page. Thanks advance for your response.

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