We purposely structured our time in Normandy to end with the American cemetery, and it was the absolute perfect finale to our stay. The visitors center is absolutely wonderful, and it so so well done. France gifted this land to America to do as they pleased in this space and it is breathtaking.
A little about the visitors center. We were planning to just do a quick jaunt through it, we weren’t expecting much. But we stayed for over 2 hours reading every display. The exhibition had statistics, video footage, photographs, timelines, biographical information, actual items the soldiers carried, war documents, maps, dedications to the French, the British, and to American lives. We waited to enter until we could watch the introduction film. I haven’ been able to find it online, but it’s called something like “16 letters.” And you watch as boys got sent off to the war and the letters they wrote home and the letters sent to them and you follow their progress through training and then at D-Day. Of course, several of the people featured in the film passed away. It was heartbreaking to see so many personal details about someone and wonder if they were going to be one of the ones who made it. So of course, I was a bucket of tears by the end of it. It was only about 20 minutes long, but I could barely breathe by the end of it and it took awhile to compose myself to keep going through the exhibit.
We thought we knew a lot going into the visitors center, we had done our research and seen most of the other sites in Normandy, but the center was so, so thorough and educational. If you ever make it to Normandy, heed my words and make sure to allow plenty of time for this place!
With heavy hearts and tears in both of our eyes, we headed up the ramp that goes from the visitors center up to the cemetery. You walk along a lovely path with a beautiful view of Omaha Beach below. As you turn the corner, you enter the lovely peace garden and the garden for the missing in action. It was beautiful. Lovely plants, stunning architecture. It was great.
In the garden of the missing in action, they have all of the names engraved into the stone surrounding the garden. My neighbor had sent me this great news article that explains a ceremony that happens when an MIA soldier’s family comes to the cemetery. They go down to Omaha Beach, fill a bucket with sand and then place the sand within the engraved letters to that they are more legible. We got to see some of the names filled with sand.
Then we walked into the main area and the tombstones were beautiful. The magnitude of how many rows and just how many tombstones were there was humbling. So many lives lost. Each tombstone is made of white marble and they are kept up so well. Perfectly straight lines in rows. It’s a beautiful memorial.
Just like Utah Beach, I loved seeing how many people filled the space. So many languages spoken, so many flags being flown. It’s a place where several nationalities come to celebrate freedom.