Published on 4 May 2020
Reading time: 3 minutes
There are 26 military cemeteries representing all nations across Normandy, but the most famous and visited overseas military cemetery in the world is the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer. No trip to our region is quite complete without a visit to this solemn and poignant place.
Built on a battlefield
The site of 9,388 headstones in serried ranks overlooking the beach they called ‘Bloody Omaha’ is deeply moving. On high bluffs and flanked by cliffs, it takes an effort of the imagination to realise that somewhere so peaceful and beautiful had seen intense bombardment and mortal combat. On 6 June 1944 men spilt out of wooden landing crafts against relentless opposition. Allied forces were the flag-bearers of freedom and hope, and were confronting forces that had imposed four years of tyranny and despair. If you spot sailboarders on the beach below, don’t be shocked – you are witnessing the fruits of their sacrifice.
As you make your way down the mall, you will notice that almost every headstone is engraved with the serviceman’s name, the date of his death, the unit in which he served, and the country where he was conscripted (or volunteered). 307 have no name. It was a long way for these young guys to get killed for the liberation of Europe. One, not so young, is Theodore Roosevelt, 56, the eldest son of President Theodore Roosevelt, who died on 12 July 12 1944. He’d led the assault on Utah Beach. His grave can be found at Plot D row 28 grave 45, now buried next to his kid brother Quentin, an aviator shot down in a dogfight in 1918. A small point – the gardeners ask us to keep our distance from the graves, especially the ‘famous’ ones in order to protect the grass. During your visit you may find some of the plots roped off to help protect the lawns: the place is so intensely visited the grass gets easily damaged by our footfall. This way we can help the small army of 25 gardeners who impeccably maintain the grounds. No dogs, by the way.
The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves
The 7m-high bronze statue is a stark reminder of the youth of the Fallen – their average age is just 24. It watches over the central mall which leads to the circular chapel, flanked all the way by marble headstones. Behind us, sadder still, is the Wall of the Missing, listing the 1557 whose mortal remains, at the time of its creation in 1953, had been lost.
plan your day
We recommend visiting the Mémorial de Caen in the morning, then head west to the Bayeux War Cemetery (Commonwealth graves) and the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer in the afternoon. Try to arrive at the latter in time for the flag lowering either at 4pm or 5pm (see opening hours below). Next, head for the Pointe du Hoc Rangers Monument for sunset (the site is open 24/7), stopping off en route at the German military cemetery in La Cambe, where the dark tombstones sit in stark contrast to those seen previously.
Normandy American Cemetery
Omaha Beach, 14710 Colleville-sur-Mer
Free of charge (except for the Memorial)
9am-6pm (mid-April to mid-September)
Flag lowering at 4pm
9am to 5pm (mid-September to mid-April)
Flag lowering at 5 pm