The massive Allied assault on the Normandy coastline on June 6, 1944 aimed to liberate France and drive into Nazi Germany.
Before dawn on June 6, three airborne divisions—the U.S. 82nd and 101st and the British 6th—landed by parachute and glider behind targeted beaches. Allied naval forces, including the U.S. Coast Guard, conveyed assault forces across the English Channel. Beginning at 0630 hours, six U.S., British and Canadian divisions landed on Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword Beaches in history’s greatest amphibious assault.
The U.S. 4th Infantry Division pushed inland from Utah Beach. To the east, on Omaha Beach, the U.S. 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions battled German resistance over a beach bristling with obstacles. To reach the plateau where Normandy American Cemetery stands, troops fought across an open area of up to 200 yards, and attacked up steep bluffs. By day’s end, the Americans held fragile control of Omaha Beach. On Gold, Juno and Sword, British and Canadian divisions forged ahead. In less than a week, the Allies linked the beachheads and pressed onward.
Over the next three months, the Allies battled German troops throughout Normandy. British and Canadians freed Caen. Americans liberated Cherbourg and staged a dramatic breakout near St. Lô. Allied troops, joined by French and Polish units, encircled and annihilated German troops at the Falaise Pocket while surviving units fled eastward. The way was now open to advance toward Paris and then to Germany.
The memorial consists of a semicircular colonnade with a loggia at each end containing large maps and narratives of the military operations; at the center is the bronze statue, “Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves.” An orientation table overlooking the beach depicts the landings in Normandy. Facing west at the memorial, one sees in the foreground the reflecting pool; beyond is the burial area with a circular chapel and, at the far end, granite statues representing the United States and France.
Architects for the cemetery’s memorial features were Harbeson, Hough, Livingston and Larson of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The landscape architect was Markley Stevenson, also of Philadelphia. Donald de Lue of New York City was the sculptor for the memorial statue and other statues in the cemetery.
Memorial and The Garden of the Missing
The memorial area is organized around a 22-foot tall bronze statue, “The Spirit of American Youth Rising From the Waves,” facing west toward the headstones. The symbolic figure is a reminder of the youth of the D-Day troops and the heroism they displayed. The red granite base of the monument is encircled with bronze lettering with the inscription: MINE EYES HAVE SEEN THE GLORY OF THE COMING OF THE LORD. The stones set in the memorial area floor are from Omaha Beach.
The memorial is flanked by a semicircular limestone colonnade; carved on the lintel is the inscription THIS EMBATTLED SHORE, PORTAL OF FREEDOM, IS FOREVER HALLOWED BY THE IDEALS, THE VALOR AND THE SACRIFICES OF OUR FELLOW COUNTRYMEN.
Behind the memorial area, the semicircular Walls of the Missing are inscribed with the names of 1,557 Americans who lost their lives in the invasion of Normandy and associated operations, but whose remains could not be located or identified.
The circular cemetery chapel is constructed of limestone and granite. On entering the chapel, the black marble altar is immediately visible with the engraved inscription: I GIVE UNTO THEM ETERNAL LIFE AND THEY SHALL NEVER PERISH. On the ceiling, a colorful mosaic depicts America blessing her sons as they depart by sea and air to fight for freedom, and a grateful France bestowing a laurel wreath upon American dead who gave their lives to liberate Europe’s oppressed peoples. The return of peace is recalled by the angel, dove and the homeward bound ship.
Symbolic Statues and Orientation Table
Two statues of Italian Baveno granite representing the United States and France stand at the west end of the central mall. The granite statues stand at either end of a small hemicycle, framing a view of the church steeple in Vierville-sur-Mer in the distance. At one side the statue of Columbia, representing the United States, is holding an eagle. At the other side the statue of Marianne, representing France, is holding a rooster. Both allegorical figures of the two nations are holding olive branches of peace.
North of the memorial, set on a platform overlooking Omaha Beach, an orientation table with a map of the invasion area depicts the Normandy landings. The trail from this area down to the beach was used by American soldiers going in the opposite direction during D-Day, to advance inland.