Memorial Day in Normandy

Mother and young girl walk among graves in Normandy cemetery

It was a fitting day to pay our respects at the American Military Cemetery in Normandy, France. Red, white and blue American and French flags adorned every snow white marker in the cemetery. Clouds made scarce appearances in the sky. Mother Nature had rolled out her best weather. It was Memorial Day 2010.

Normandy American Military Cemetery photograph by Tricia Mitchell

Normandy American Military Cemetery in France photograph by Tricia Mitchell

As we walked through the countless rows of headstones, I overheard a young girl, who was dressed in baby pink, asking her mother questions. Her mother had obviously tried to explain to her daughter that this was a place where men were buried. Still, the concept must have been abstract to the little one, who was squirming on the ground, peering at marker after marker.

“Ooh, ” she exclaimed, while pointing to a headstone with not a cross but a Star of David. “This one must have been really important! He has a star!”

Normandy American Military Cemetery in France photograph by Tricia Mitchell

We did not linger to hear what the mother said to her child, but the moment was striking. We could only imagine what other difficult questions the child posed to her family about this place where the souls of so many men slept.

How do you begin to explain this chapter of history to a child?

Grave in Normandy cemetery photograph by Tricia Mitchell

Graves in Normandy cemetery, France photograph by Tricia Mitchell

Normandy cemetery, France photograph by Tricia Mitchell

We divided our time between the memorial structures and the emerald green lawn where 9,387 individuals are buried. Flowers had been placed by American and French visitors. There were bright red geraniums, wilting roses, poppies, and wreaths with messages. Some flowers had been delivered by French schoolchildren. Others had been placed by community organizations.

Normandy cemetery, France photograph by Tricia Mitchell

Flowers at American Military Cemetery in Normandy France photograph by Tricia Mitchell

A dedication was inscribed in French on one panel of the monument:

1941-1945: Les Etats-Unis d’Amérique, fiers des exploits de leurs fils, humblés devant leurs sacrifices, ont erigé ce monument, à leur mémoire.

American Military Cemetery in Normandy French Inscription photograph by Tricia Mitchell

American Military Cemetery in Normandy Statue Reaching to Sky photograph by Tricia Mitchell

Graves in American Military Cemetery in Normandy photograph by Tricia Mitchell

American Military Cemetery in Normandy Ceiling Detail photograph by Tricia Mitchell

Mirrored on the other side of the monument was the English translation:

1941-1945: In proud remembrance of the achievements of her sons and in humble tribute to their sacrifice this memorial has been erected by the United States of America.

 American Military Cemetery in Normandy Inscription in English photograph by Tricia Mitchell

American Military Cemetery in Normandy photograph by Tricia Mitchell

American Military Cemetery in Normandy France photograph by Tricia Mitchell

 American Military Cemetery in Normandy Reflecting Pool photograph by Tricia Mitchell

Graves in American Military Cemetery in Normandy photograph by Tricia Mitchell

Graves in American Military Cemetery in Normandy photograph by Tricia Mitchell

American Military Cemetery in Normandy Wreaths and Flowers photograph by Tricia Mitchell

Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms known but to God photograph by Tricia Mitchell

graves in Normandy cemetery photograph by Tricia Mitchell

American flag at American Military Cemetery in  Normandy photograph by Tricia Mitchell

Graves in American Military Cemetery in Normandy photograph by Tricia Mitchell

As we walked away from the cemetery, the beaches of Normandy fell into the background. Then we paused, took a deep breath, and remembered.

Graves in American Military Cemetery in Normandy photograph by Tricia Mitchell

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34 Comments on “Memorial Day in Normandy

  1. Your emotional blog brought tears to my eyes. My Uncle is buried in Belgium, and the Belgium family who began looking after his grave after world war two, continue to do so today. Letters and photographs have been exchanged. We are forever linked to Belgium and that family. Virginia

    • How touching, Virginia! Not only that they tend to the grave so lovingly, but also that a beautiful friendship has been born out of a tragic event. I hope that someday you will be able to meet this kind family!

      My husband and I visited the Mardasson Memorial in Bastogne, Belgium last spring. It was erected by the Belgian population to show their gratitude. Living in Europe, there’s always so much history in one’s backyard!

    • I’m glad the photos spoke to you, Carole. We also went to the cemetery to remember fallen Canadian soldiers in Normandy. We were there at sunset, with very different lighting. It was equally-touching.

      Hope you’re enjoying your newfound freedom, now that your studies have wrapped up for the summer! Thank you for dropping by.

    • Hi Mary Ann, thank you! I forgot that you two weren’t able to see the historic sites in Normandy that day. Here’s to more postings from that trip! :)

  2. This is a beautifully put together post. Super images, as always, and it is very well-written. This line is a good example: “this place where the souls of so many men slept”. You put it very simply and without overstatement, which makes it all the more poignant. Well done.

    • Rachael, I’m pleased that you found the post to be effective in conveying the power of the memorial. We didn’t make it to the British cemetery or beaches (only the American and Canadian) but I am sure they are just as moving as the ones we saw.

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  5. We spent our Memorial Day last month at the Henri-Chapelle American cemetery in southeast Belgium. It was a touching ceremony, much like the one you witnessed in Normandy. Many Belgians wearing star-spangled ties, scarves and dresses came to say thank-you to the American military who were killed on Belgian soil during World War II.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience; it indeed sounds as though it was a moving one. Did you also visit the Mardasson Memorial in Bastogne? While in Belgium last spring, we went there; it was quite touching to see this monument made by the Belgian people.

      Hopefully soon, I’ll be sharing a post about our visit to the American Cemetery in Manila a few months ago. My grandfather fought in the Pacific during WWII, and it special to visit there.

  6. I visited Normandy when I was at school with a few veterans who had been part of the D-Day landings. Very eye-opening and humbling. I’d love to go back as an adult and experience it with a bit more understanding. I love your photos too!

    • Hi there, Got The Postcard :) Thanks for dropping by. Being able to talk with the veterans certainly makes the experience even more powerful. Were you there on the anniversary? It’s hard to believe that next year is the 70th anniversary of the landings.

      • It definitely gave us a different perspective to the whole trip, as they were able to explain to us what it was really like for them. We weren’t there for an anniversary, I think it was 2005/6? We did get to lay a wreath with them in one of the cemeterys though, which was extremely touching! Reading your post has made me want to return though, so just in the process of persuading my boyfriend :)

      • Perhaps you two can return for next year’s big anniversary then. We attended some of the commemorative events on 6 June 2013, about three years after the visit in this blog post. One of the veterans we met was in his nineties, but still “sharp as a tack.” He talked to us about loving to dance the foxtrot, and having once seen Louis Armstrong perform. :)

        If you’re curious what the atmosphere is like for the early June commemorative events, here’s a glimpse of a second photo essay that I did, from that anniversary visit: http://triciaannemitchell.com/2013/06/06/honoring-the-greatest-generation-at-dday-celebrations-in-normandy-2013/

  7. Fantastic photos Tricia! I recently visited the American Cemetary over Easter weekend and I was thinking about that this weekend, wondering what it must be like to visit on Memorial Day. Thank you for sharing this!

    • Hi Mandy, lovely of you to drop by, and thank you for your compliment about the images.

      I’ve visited Normandy on Memorial Day and during D-Day commemorations, and both visits were incredibly moving. Last June we were there for the 69th anniversary of the D-Day landings, and it was special getting a chance to speak with some of the veterans, many of whom are now in their nineties. It’s hard to believe that this year will mark the 70th anniversary. Strangely enough, there were mixed emotions during the D-Day week: somber ceremonies to remember, yet we also saw young & older re-enactors in 1940s garb, read about 1940s dances, and even saw people land-sailing on one of the beaches. How long were you in Normandy this past spring?

      • We were just there over Easter weekend and it was only my second visit to France. I enjoyed it so much that I booked to take my mum to Paris in September. Although born in Alexandria, Egypt, my mum lived in Paris until she was 9 and hasn’t been back since!

      • No, never but as far as I know she isn’t as keen to go back there as she is to France. I never thought of asking!

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