In front of each impeccably-maintained, white marble headstone, shaped as a cross or the Star of David, stands a small American flag and French flag. At Normandy’s American Cemetery, you’ll find 9,387 examples of this, plus many more within the Garden of the Missing, a wall that lists the names of 1500+ American soldiers whose remains were never found. It was in this cemetery where we finished a day-long tour of D-Day sights.
It was a day packed with knowledge shared by a passionate guide, but the heartbreak of the veterans and the viewpoint of the “other side” were not ignored either. To be brief:
- We visited the stark German Cemetery, with reddish gravestone markers and occasional groups of five crosses of the same color.. Although I find it personally difficult to ignore the atrocities committed, our guide reminded us how so many soldiers were simply teenagers forced from their homes and following orders.
- Arriving at Utah Beach at almost low tide, as did the soldiers, you understand better their treacherous and very long path from their boats across what must’ve seemed like an endless nightmare of sand.
- Our next stop was Pointe-du-Hoc, which is quite literally a piece of land pointing into and over the ocean. Here, the aerial bombing that preceded the land invasion is still shockingly obvious, with monstrous holes and pits covering the ground where huge bombs landed. We also explored German bunkers still in tact, as well as the huge foundations where a monstrous gun once sat.
- Our last beach was Omaha beach, the most difficult and costly battle for the US soldiers. Omaha beach was a resort town at the time of invasion, and the sea wall and resort homes still sit next to caissons and other war remnants, and is still overseen by old German machine gun pits.
And after those stops we ended up at the American Cemetery, where we realize the terrible human cost of war. But, as quietly symbolized by two small flags, we too understand the cause of liberating a country.
Our guide told us that he once walked up to a French worker who, as is done each spring, was scrubbing one of the 9000+ marble headstones. He tried to thank the man for his hard work, but was immediately silenced. “No!,” the worker said, “This is for the heroes.”