Remembering an American Cemetery in France

Over the years the reputation of the United States in Europe has fluctuated, beginning from the origins of this nation as an independent democracy. Most notably in my lifetime, was first, the way the world rallied to our side after 9-11, and then later, how we systematically proceeded to again lose the respect of our European friends. Our country is standing on the threshold of falling off a cliff in the eyes of the world with the recent financial mismanagement that is occurring in our government and our leaders’ apparent inability to do what is required and put their personal agendas aside to compromise. Compromise is needed.

Anyway, I don’t want to be on a soapbox, I only mention it because, like me, you may be tired of hearing the doom and gloom about our country and world opinion (or at least AAA credit ratings).  I want to share with you a European moment I experienced several years back.

In the summer of 2004, shortly after the 60th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy, I went on a WWII tour from London to Berlin (although we started in Berlin and went backwards) with my daughter and a group from her high school. The following is an excerpt I wrote for a communications class at the College of Mount St. Joseph in November of 2004 in which I shared my experience at the beaches of Normandy and the American Cemetery —

A view of Normandy, France through the window of a tour bus — June 2004

During our nearly two-week trip through Europe,  the Beaches of Normandy and the American Cemetery is where I found most of what I had, in my naiveté at the time, hoped to find in Europe.  I had been fore-warned that sentiment for Americans in Europe was not what it had been, and that as American tourists it was prudent to leave anything that would identify us as such in America.  But that negative characterization of Americans was simply not powerful enough to counteract the positive image I have grown up with of the American hero and sometimes savior.  If there is anyplace one will find an American hero in Europe, it is in Normandy.

It was beautiful the day we visited Normandy. It was sunny and puffy white clouds dotted the sky.  The wind that rustled through the trees felt cool on my skin and made everything seem fresh and clean.  It caused the rows and bunches of red rose bushes planted around the American Cemetery to dance and sway gently.

Upper walkway at the American Cemetery in France, overlooking the beach — June 2004

A walkway leads from the parking area, between the precisely aligned rows of crosses and Stars of David and the memorial statue, to an overlook of the beach there.  A serpentine stairs cuts a path down the hillside to the beach below.  My young companions eagerly took to the stairs – but I stayed behind to walk among the graves.

That morning we had been to Omaha Beach where the Americans had landed on D-Day.  I had stood on the sand that absorbed the blood from so many young men on that devastating but world-altering day sixty years ago.  I had faced the hill where the soldiers met the formidable power of the Nazis, replaying scenes from “Saving Private Ryan” in my mind—although it’s all very different now, and peaceful.

Omaha Beach, Normandy, France — June 2004

I had been to the beach, but at this place, at this cemetery, I wanted to meet the men who had died there. So I began to wander alone among the rows of crosses and stars, reading the names of the young men who never lived long enough to realize what their courage and sacrifice bought for the rest of us. Many of the young men buried here may have been no older than my own sons were at the time.  And I thought of all the telegrams that bore the worst of news, to their mothers back home.  I was engulfed by a mood of reflective sorrow and gratitude.

And then a group of noisy school children arrived.  At first I was a bit disgruntled that their chatter and childhood energy would ruin the reverence I was experiencing in this place.  And then my curiosity was piqued as I noticed that they all held something in their hands.  As this disordered group dispersed out among the graves I saw what they carried.  The little French children each held a small bouquet of flowers to place on an American stranger’s grave in an American cemetery in France.

School children place bouquets of flowers on the graves of American soldiers — June 2004

The children were the living presence of the sentiment that Jacques Chirac expressed in his speech delivered on the 60th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 2004, when he said, “America honors its sons who died so young in the name of freedom.  They are now our sons also” (1).

"Rising from the Waves," a memorial statue at the American Cemetery in Normandy, France — June 2004

There is no question that the men buried there are honored, revered, and seen as American heroes, still, to this day.  This is what I had hoped to see on a WWII tour, and this is what I found at Normandy.


Related post:

Silencing the Voices of Reason — Dachau


Source cited:

Chirac, Jacques. “A Debt of Gratitude.” American Cemetery, Normandy. 6 June 2004.
Vital Speeches of the Day
. 70.17 (2004): 520-521.  Academic Search Premier 6
Oct. 2004 < //,ip,url,uid&db=aph&an=13682448>.


23 thoughts on “Remembering an American Cemetery in France”

  1. It is meaningful that we post things of this nature no matter what the theme or genre of our blog. Some people have expressed discomfort at my dozen anti war Afghanistan posts on a cartoon blog but we should also knowledge things that are important.

  2. This brought back memories of my visit to Normandy many (many) years ago when I was in high school. I’m not sure I felt the pride of the American hero then, but the sadness of the evidence of war and I remember reflecting on what it meant to be an American Jew fighting during that war. Locations like this bring to light the realities that I wish more people would understand, that it doesn’t matter what country we are from or what we believe, we all live and die and all have worth on this earth. (Thump–me getting off my soapbox now).

    1. No thumps from me. Historical sights always move me. I think it’s because I’m imaginative, or highly intuitive . . .I was in Salem once and we toured a museum about the witch trials. They displayed a wooden ceiling beam from the prison where the accused were kept. I reached up and touched it and thought I could feel the despair. I couldn’t hardly remain.

  3. Bravo on this post, Christine!

    Not just on the French side of the pond, but the disgraceful circus going on here on our own. Will we be bringing little bouquets to place on the grave of America, of folks in despair over loss of jobs, and perhaps even worse, over loss of hopes and ideals?????

    Who are the patriots, hey? I am old enough to have been brought up in a more innocent age, when we were supposed to care about our co-citizens, to strive for goals higher than our own advancement. An age in which all were supposed to pull together, to be
    We the People —

    Thump is me falling off my soap box.

    1. Lots of room on this soapbox.

      I heard a congresswoman on the news tonight saying we need to pledge allegiance to our country, not our political party.

      I can’t believe these are the educated leaders in our country, acting in such a self-serving, non-compromising way. What a poor, poor example they set. I’m pretty sick of it. I may just turn my T.V. off and stop reading the paper.

  4. Beautifully said, Christine. I’ve long since decided that the first place that I want to go to on the continent will be Normandy, not to only see Juno Beach, which is such a part of my country’s history, but Sword, Omaha, Gold, and Utah Beaches as well.

    Terrific pictures, too.

  5. So many dead, so many wasted lives you would think they would learn…but history keeps on repeating itself. Great post and one that has made me stop and think!

    The only thing I would say about America is that their presidents are too keen to meddle in the affairs of other countries. Actually, the UK is the same and our previous primeminister used to be nicknamed “the American poodle”.

    I’ve never been to America, but the Americans we have met here in Portugal have been so friendly and less “reserved” than the Brits and Germans.

    1. You’re right about us meddling. I wish we would just bring everybody home and leave others alone. Although, that doesn’t always work. If we hadn’t joined the war effort during WWII, it’s hard to say what might have happened.

      That’s a nice review of American citizens, thank you.

  6. I sensed the reverence in the cemetery of crosses and Stars of David. I can’t imagine how it would feel to actually be there. What a blessing that the schoolchildren are still taught this. I wonder if OUR schoolchildren are aware of it? And what a difference those men made in history. Freedom does not come cheap.


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