Normandy D-Day Tour: German and American Cemeteries

This post is the fourth in a series on my D-Day tour of Normandy, France. See the rest of the posts here.

German Cemetery

We started our tour at the German cemetery. The French government has allotted about 17 acres for this space, which is mostly maintained by volunteers and German family members. There are still more than 20,000 German soldiers missing in action, presumably waiting to be found in various places in the French countryside.

The doorway to the cemetery is wide enough for one person only, symbolizing the fact that we all enter the afterlife alone. The rays extending outward are meant to welcome the German soldiers whose bodies are still waiting to be found. In the center of the cemetery is a monument showing a pair of grieving parents on either side of a cross. With so many soldiers being young men under the age of 20, the war took a particular toll on parents.

The American Cemetery

Our D-Day tour concluded with a visit to the American Cemetery, with more than 100 acres dedicated to the eternal rest of almost 10,000 American troops. Unlike the German cemetery, the American cemetery is maintained by the American government, specifically the American Battle Monuments Commission. I was not aware until this trip that we had an entire department dedicated to this and in fact, the ABMC “administers, operates and maintains 26 permanent American military cemeteries and 29 federal memorial, monuments and markers, which are located in 16 foreign countries [and in the US and territories].”

At the entrance is the Garden of the Lost with names engraved on a semi-circular wall for those who were MIA or KIA in Normandy but were never found or identified. The few names with bronze stars next to them represent someone who has since been identified, but those are rare.  Just inside the cemetery is an iconic statue titled The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves.

It’s a peaceful and tranquil setting, designed to make the Americans who permanently rest there feel at home with pine trees, Kentucky blue grass, and other non-native plants and trees imported from America. There is a reflection pool and chapel also. It’s really difficult to see so many rows and rows of crosses and know that this is just a fraction of the lives lost in this war.

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