5 interesting facts about Normandy American Cemetery
Dedicated twelve years after D-Day, Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is one of the fourteen permanent military cemeteries of the Second World War operated and maintained by the American government on foreign soil. This year is a special one for the agency in charge as in 2023 the A.B.M.C (American Battlefield Monuments Commission) #abmc marks the centenary of the commission's foundation.
1. Symbolic location
Perched on the bluffs overlooking Omaha Beach, the cemetery #normandycemetery #collevillesurmercemetery is located in Easy Red sector — one of the eight beach sectors earmarked to be assaulted by American forces on D-Day #dday #ddaystory. The symbolism behind the location itself is twofold. On one hand, there was no better place in Normandy to reflect the sacrifice made by American troops in the course of the campaign than Omaha beach. On the other hand, thanks to the intrepidity of men like Lt. John Spaulding or Cpt. Joe Dawson, Easy Red was the first sector of bloody Omaha in which the GIs were able to breach the vaunted Atlantic Wall.
The cemetery is one of the most iconic sights in Normandy. It represents the highlight of any D-Day tour of the American beaches, regardless of the formula you shall opt for: half-day tour or full-day tour.
2. Four women are resting in the cemetery
Amongst the 9.387 people resting at Colleville, four are women. One of them, Elizabeth Richardson, was a Red Cross volunteer. This means that she may also be regarded as one of the civilians buried in Normandy American Cemetery. The other three women, Mary Bankston, Mary Barlow, and Dolores Browne were WACs (Women’s Army Corps) and served with the 6888th Postal Battalion. While 'Liz' died in a plane crash on July 25, 1945, the WACs were involved in a jeep accident on the outskirts of Rouen, just a few weeks before, on July 8, 1945. In a strange twist of fate, all four died in July 1945 so after VE-Day, their death resulted from accidents, and all four were initially buried in the same temporary cemetery at St. Andre.
3. Father and son buried side by side
Ollie W. Reed was only 24 when he joined the National Guard in 1916. His was to be a life of service. Promoted to Colonel in late June 1944, Reed and the 175th, the regiment he was in command of, were soon to get entangled in some of the most brutal fighting experienced by the 29th Div. during the entire Normandy campaign. On July 30, the 47-year-old ‘Jayhawker’ was KIA some 12 miles south of St. Lo. Although he did not know it at the time, his son Ollie W. Reed Jr. was already dead. The 25-year-old lieutenant had fallen on July 6th while serving with the 91st Div. in Tuscany, Italy. At the request of the family, father and son were brought back together after the war and reinterred side by side in plot E.
4. Missing but not forgotten
As mentioned before, over nine thousand souls are resting in Normandy American Cemetery. However, the total number of people commemorated at Colleville is close to eleven thousand if one is to consider that in the Garden of the Missing are listed the names of 1.557 servicemen whose remains could not be located at the end of the war. These were men considered MIA or who died at sea and do not have a known grave. Since the completion of the Tablets of the Missing in 1955 and which can be seen in the aforementioned garden, the remains of nineteen servicemen have been found/identified and properly interred either in the cemetery or at home.
5. A Minnesotan, the last person buried in the cemetery
Thanks to the scientific progress made in the last few decades, the remains of WWII dead can now be found and identified more easily than before. It is the case of 2nd Lt. William McGowan from Benson, Minnesota, whose P-47 ‘Thunderbolt’ was shut down on D-Day near Moon s/ Elle, a few miles south of Omaha Beach. Although the crash site was inspected in 1947, the remains of the 24-year-old pilot were declared non-recoverable at the time. After another survey in 2010 and subsequent excavation works in 2019, Lt. McGowan has been officially accounted for in May 2019. He was laid to rest at Colleville on July 8, 2022, which makes him the last person to date interred in Normandy US Cemetery.
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