Colleville-sur-Mer – St-Laurent-sur-mer
The Colleville-sur-Mer American Cemetery was opened on land given in perpetuity by France to the USA in recognition of the sacrifices made by American troops in order to free the country from Nazism.
The 70-hectare cemetery was inaugurated in 1956.
It is the largest WWII American war cemetery in France, and is maintained by the U.S. government.
It replaced a temporary cemetery opened on June 8, 1944 a few hundred meters farther west.
Ten other temporary cemeteries were open on the various battlefields in addition to the countless field graves scattered throughout the region.
The American Battle Monuments Commission (AMBC) repatriated approximately 60% of these soldiers’ remains at the request of their families.
The others were transferred to two cemeteries, Colleville-sur-Mer American Cemetery on the cliff overlooking Omaha Beach and St-James Cemetery in the south, near Brittany.
Colleville-sur-Mer American Cemetery spreads on the hilltop.
It overlooks the sea and Omaha Beach, today a beautiful sandy beach.
The cemetery contains the remains of the 9,387 American soldiers, including 4 women, who died in Normandy.
Their graves are aligned on the vast green lawn, which is divided in 10 plots delineated by a series of paths that form a Latin Cross.
The main entrance to the cemetery is located in the Visitors Building.
A register contains the names of all the soldiers who were never identified and of those buried in the war cemeteries placed under the care of the AMBC.
The Visitors Centre has also a Veterans’ Book – a very endearing document.
Colleville-sur-Mer American Cemetery – Time Capsule
A Time Capsule buried in front of the old Visitors Building’s entrance contains a copy of all the reports issued June 6, 1944.
It was sealed on June 6, 1969.
The pink granite slab that covers it is engraved with:
“To be opened June 6, 2044”
A bronze slab is fixed on the top of the granite cover.
Five Stars (for General Eisenhower) are engraved above the dedication that reads:
‘In memory of General Dwight D. Eisenhower and the forces under his command.
This sealed capsule containing news reports of the June 6, 1944 Normandy landings is placed here by the newsmen who were here, June 6, 1969.”
Colleville-sur-Mer American Cemetery – Omaha Beach
A footpath, bordered with maritime pine trees, leads the visitors along the hill crest that overlooks Omaha Beach.
The former breaches have given way to a series of steps leading down to the beach.
You’ll find a viewing platform and orientation table at the top these breaches.
Omaha Beach is today a long and beautiful sandy beach that stretches as far as the eye can see.
The footpath leads to the memorial and the cemetery.
Colleville-sur-Mer American Cemetery – Memorial
The magnificent Colleville-sur-Mer American Cemetery memorial consists of a semi-circular limestone colonnade framing a platform and a gigantic statue.
A flight of steps in granite from Brittany leads up to the platform, which has been tiled with pebbles recovered from the landing beaches and set in mortar.
The inner side of the colonnade’s lintel was carved and painted in golden letters with:
“This Embattled Shore, Portal Of Freedom, Is Forever Hallowed
By The Ideals, The Valor And The Sacrifices Of Our Fellow Countrymen”
The 22ft high bronze Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves stands on a granite pedestal.
The American sculptor Donald Harcourt De Lue created this statue (which was cast in Italy).
This statue represents a naked young man who soars towards the sky and seems to commit his soul to God.
The ground surrounding the statue is embedded in golden letters with the dedication:
“Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory Of The Coming Of The Lord”
This statue is very moving; it indeed symbolizes the thousands of men – young and less young – who sacrificed their life on Omaha.
A loggia flanks each end of the colonnade.
The two loggias’ ceilings are adorned with blue ceramic tiles.
Their walls are engraved and painted with maps and explanations of the various military operations that took place during the Battle of Normandy:” The Landings on the Normandy Beaches and the Development of the Beachhead”,
” The Air Operations over Normandy March-August 1944″, “6 June 1944 The Amphibious Assault Landings”,
“Military Operations in Western Europe, 6 June 1944-8 May 1945″…
The outer walls of the loggias are engraved with the following dedication in French and English:“1941-1945
“In Proud Remembrance of the Achievements of Her Sons and in Humble Tribute to their Sacrifices
This Memorial has been erected by the United States of America”
Finally, Harcourt de Lue created also the two massive bronze urns that adorn each loggia.
Jardin des Disparus
Two olive trees were planted at the back of the statue and frame the entrance to the Garden of the Missing.
This semi-circular garden is divided into four smaller gardens; each is planted with an olive tree.
The surrounding walls are engraved with the names of the 1,557 American soldiers whose bodies were never identified nor found.
However, the names of those who were eventually recovered or identified are marked with an asterisk.
The following dedication was engraved above their names:“Here are recorded the names of Americans
Who gave Their Lives in the Service of Their Country and Who sleep in Unknown Graves.
This is their Memorial
The Whole Earth Their Sepulcher.
Comrades in Arms whose Resting Place is Known Only to God”
Colleville-sur-Mer American Cemetery – Reflecting Pool
The Memorial faces a rectangular pond.
Water lilies of various colours give off a feeling of peace and serenity.
The choice of water lilies (nénuphars in French) can be easily justified by its symbolism that finds its roots in the Roman mythology.
In the language of flowers the water lily is indeed associated Cold, but also with Eternal Memory.
Legend has it that the nymph Nenuphar fell in love with Hercules, but she let herself die as her love was not shared.
Hercules, however, took pity and perpetuated her memory by changing the nymph into a beautiful water lily.
Colleville-sur-Mer American Cemetery – Chapel
A straight central alley connects the memorial and the pond to the modern style chapel, built in the same limestone than the Memorial.
The following inscription, engraved by the entrance door, reads:“This Chapel has been erected by the United states of America
In Grateful Memory of Her Sons
Who gave Their lives in the Landings on the Normandy Beaches and
In the Liberation of Northern France.
Their Graves are the Permanent and Visible Symbol of Their Heroic Devotion and Their Sacrifice In the Common Cause of Humanity”
A black marble altar is the focal point of the small circular chapel.
It is engraved with:
“I Give Unto Them Eternal Life and
They Shall Never Perish”
Then, there are the prayers carved on the walls:
“Through The Gate of Death may They Pass , To Their Joyful Resurrection
Think not only upon Their Passing, Remember The Glory of Their Spirit”
Colleville-sur-Mer American Cemetery extends at the rear of the chapel.
Two Italian granite statues, representing the U.S.A. and France, were placed at the western end of the alley.
Colleville-sur-Mer American Cemetery – Graves
Colleville-sur-Mer American Cemetery is amazingly beautiful and peaceful.
There is no morbid feeling as you stroll among the endless rows of white Latin Crosses that create a multitude of lines running towards Omaha.
Their whiteness stands out against the green lawns and the sea that blends in the blue horizon.
Each cross is inscribed with the name, regiment and date of death of each soldier.
Sadly, 307 unidentified soldiers are buried in this cemetery.
The site is very beautiful, orderly, light, sober and elegant and perfectly reflects the American spirit.
A Star of David, here and there, reminds us that the American soldiers, who landed to free Europe and France, came from different backgrounds and were united in their fight against Nazism.
President T. Roosevelt’s sons
The two sons of President Theodore Roosevelt were also buried in Colleville-sur-Mer American Cemetery.
Theodore Jr. (1887-1944) was the President’s eldest son.
He fought in both world wars and was awarded the Medal of Honour.
Theodore Jr. Roosevelt was the only General and one of the first soldiers along with Captain Leonard T. Schroeder to land by sea on D-Day.
He and his men landed on Utah Beach, nearly 2km farther south from their planned landing area, because their crafts had drifted.
Theodore Jr. remembered for his address to his men after assessing the situation:
“We’ll start the war from right here!”
A Freedom Milestone marks the spot where he and his troops landed.
Theodore Jr. died of a heart condition a month after the landing on July 12, 1944!
His remains were laid to rest next to those of his brother Quentin (1897-1918), President Roosevelt’s youngest son.
Quentin was killed in aerial combat during WWI on July 14, 1918.
He was initially buried in Chamery Cemetery in the Marne department.
However, his remains were later transferred to Colleville-sur-Mer American Cemetery.
Finally, here’s a beautiful poem by Ebenezer Elliott (1781-1849) in order to pay tribute to all these men:
War by Ebenezer Elliott
The victories of mind
Are won for all Mankind,
But war wastes what it wins,
Ends worse than it begins,
And is a game of woes,
Which nations always lose,
Though tyrant tyrant kill,
The slayer liveth still.
Coordinates: Lat 49.357891 – Long -0.852889
Gold Beach: Arromanches – Ver-sur-mer
Sword Beach: Ouistreham-Riva Bella
Rediscover all the landing beaches during the 75th Anniversary Commemorations