Those killed during the invasion of Normandy and subsequent battles rest at Normandy American Cemetery in France. Ten formerly temporary graveyards formed this burial ground. The chartreuse grass is weedless and meticulous. The soldiers are painstakingly buried directly below their markers that face west toward the United States. Their white marble headstones total 9,387: 9,238 Latin crosses and 149 Stars of David. The headstones do not have birth dates, just death dates making them timeless. The cemetery stretches 172.5 acres overlooking Omaha Beach and the English Channel where casualties totaled about 2,400 US troops.
The allied forces began their D-Day Normandy invasion by air and sea on June 6, 1944, and their success marked the beginning of the war’s end. They used deceptive radio intelligence to steer the Germans away from Normandy to Calais, that was farther north. Under Gen. George Patton’s guidance, film studios constructed fake barracks and tents, landing crafts, imitation tanks and trucks, and placed them in Dover, that was across The Channel from Calais. The attack location was believable because Calais and Dover were on opposite banks of the narrowest part of the waterway. To further confuse the Germans, the Allies dropped simulated airborne dummies with artillery recordings and bombs attached to them in locations far from Normandy.
On D-Day, poor weather conditions and high seas caught the Germans off guard. They assumed that the Allies would wait for improved conditions before invading. Some German officers believed that the Normandy invasion was a ruse to distract them from Calais, and ignored it. Others continued their parties with the locals. Also, German Field Marshall Rommel was away with his wife.
Strong tides caused allied ships to drift from their targeted landing position. When troops arrived on the beach in heavy wet clothes and laden with ammunition and supplies, they faced German artillery and weaponry, some fired from bunkers. The Allies navigated metal beach obstructions, ditches, hedgerows, mines and scaled high precipices. If they saw livestock grazing in open fields, soldiers knew that the area was free of explosives.
Before dropping the paratroopers, pilots faced thick clouds, and many airborne missed their targets finding themselves navigating the terrain alone. The soldiers, loaded with ammunition and supplies, sprained muscles or broke their bones on impact. Others were shot down by Germans, drowned, perished in fire from bombs, or trees and poles caught their chutes. Paratrooper John Steele is remembered today for landing on the steeple at Sainte Mere Eglise church. The Germans captured him, and he escaped. This chart lists the fatalities, casualties and missing for the US Airborne in the Cotentin Peninsula.
On D-Day, the Allies landed 160,000 troops including 73,000 Americans. The Allies endured 10,000 casualties. During the entire campaign, from June 6, 1944, to August 21, 1944, the two million allied troops in Northern France sustained more than 226,386 casualties: 72,911 were missing or killed, and 153,475 wounded. The German’s suffered 240,000 injuries and deaths, and 200,000 were apprehended.
In the Normandy cemetery, the Walls of the Missing list 1,557 names. Among those are 750 Americans killed on 12/24/44, when a German submarine torpedoed the S.S. Leopoldville killing both Americans and British.
Interred in the cemetery, officers and the enlisted lie next to one another with no exception for rank. Thirty-three of 45 sets of brothers, and a father and son lay side by side. Others interred include three Medal of Honor recipients, 307 unknown soldiers, Preston and Robert Niland who inspired Saving Private Ryan, and two sons of President Theodore Roosevelt.
All who suffered and died for our freedom were exceptional. Please honor our fallen soldiers by respecting our American flag.