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.
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
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.)