White marble crosses and Stars of David stretch off in seemingly endless rows at the Normandy American Cemetery, situated on a now-serene bluff overlooking the bitterly contested sands of Omaha Beach. The visitor centre has an excellent multimedia presentation on the D-Day landings, told in part through the stories of individuals’ courage and sacrifice. Free 45-minute English-language tours of the cemetery, also focusing on personal stories, depart daily at 2pm and, from mid-April to mid-September, at 11am.
Featured in the opening scenes of Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, this place of pilgrimage is one of the largest American war cemeteries in Europe and is an incredibly emotional sight, containing the graves of 9387 American soldiers, including 33 pairs of brothers who are buried side-by-side (another 12 pairs of brothers are buried separately or memorialised here). Only about 40% of American war dead from the fighting in Normandy are interred in this cemetery – the rest were repatriated at the request of their families.
Overlooking the gravestones is a large colonnaded memorial centred on a statue called The Spirit of American Youth, maps explaining the order of battle, and a wall honouring 1557 Americans whose bodies were not found (men whose remains were recovered after the memorial was inaugurated are marked with a bronze rosette). A small, white-marble chapel stands at the intersection of the cross-shaped main paths through the cemetery.
The Normandy American Cemetery & Memorial is 17km northwest of Bayeux; by car, follow the signs to the ‘Cimetière Militaire Americain’. There is a large car park on site.