The land it occupies is sovereign territory of the US, transferred by France

The Normandy American Cemetery and the history of the D-Day gravediggers

There are few cemeteries as famous as the one that houses the remains of thousands of American soldiers next to the famous Omaha Beach.

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Today is the 80th anniversary of the Normandy Landings, and it is a good day to talk about this cemetery. Let's start with its origins. Among the auxiliary units that landed in Normandy on June 6, 1944 was a unit dedicated to the burials of fallen soldiers: the 607th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company. The Third Platoon of that Company landed on Omaha Beach at 3:30 p.m. on D-Day, in the Easy Red sector. A few hours before, the only Spaniard who fell that day in Normandy Manuel Otero, had landed in that same sector in the morning, dying a short distance from the beach.

The WW2 US Medical Research Center website notes that the first American cemetery in Normandy, on a provisional basis, was established on June 7, 1944, located next to Omaha Beach, west of Vierville-sur-Mer , in the Dog Green sector. This cemetery was created by the aforementioned Third Platoon of the 607th Company, with the help of two quartermaster units: the 309th Quartermaster Railhead Company and the 3168th Quartermaster Services Company, the latter made up of black staff. That night 457 bodies were removed from the beach area and buried in that first cemetery.

A second provisional cemetery was started on June 10 in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer on June 10, receiving 775 bodies of Allied soldiers and 200 bodies of German soldiers for burial, which was completed in five days. By midnight on June 16, the Second and Third Platoons of the 607th Company had buried 1,510 American soldiers, 48 ​​Allied and 606 German. The 607th Company's Fourth Platoon landed at 7:00 p.m. on June 7, 1944 on Utah Beach, establishing another temporary cemetery there the next day. Furthermore, on June 18, another cemetery dedicated to the German dead was established in Orglandes.

The work of these gravediggers is very unknown to the general public. To them we owe the fact of having buried men who in many cases were destroyed. It must have been a very difficult job and deserves to be remembered. Let us also think that this recovery of bodies was carried out on beaches that had an intense activity of vehicles that landed constantly on the coasts of Normandy, bringing more personnel, weapons, ammunition, provisions and other elements necessary for the subsistence of the troops.

The current Normandy American Cemetery was built a short distance from the provisional cemetery of Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, in the French town of Colleville-sur-Mer. Initially, wooden crosses were installed on the graves of the bodies buried in the first cemeteries. The current cemetery was inaugurated on July 18, 1956 and is sovereign territory of the United States, since France ceded ownership of the land to that country. The graves are marked with marble crosses and Stars of David, depending on the religion of the deceased.

This cemetery currently houses 9,388 graves. Of them, 9,387 are of soldiers who fell in the Second World War. In addition, there is a fallen person from the First World War: Quentin Roosevelt, the youngest son of President Theodore Roosevelt, who fell on July 14, 1918 in an aerial combat over France and whose remains were transferred to this cemetery in 1955. Among the people buried in this cemetery are three soldiers who received the Medal of Honor (Jimmie W. Monteith, Frank D. Peregory and Theodore Roosevelt Jr.), 4 American women, 147 African Americans and 20 Native Americans, as well as 3 generals, 4 chaplains and 4 civilians. The cemetery contains 45 pairs of siblings.

Of the soldiers buried there, 307 have not been able to be identified. Above their crosses you can read this inscription: "Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms known but to God"

In addition, the names of 1,557 missing in action are inscribed in the cemetery. Let us remember that many soldiers drowned and their bodies were never recovered.

The cemetery has the shape of a large Latin cross, with a chapel in the center and a 6.7 meter high bronze statue, the work of the American sculptor Donald De Lue (1897-1988) and titled "Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves", on the base of which reads this inscription: "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord".

You can see the official video of this cemetery here, published by the American Battle Monuments Commission, which is in charge of managing it:


Photos: U.S. Army / WW2 US Medical Research Centre.

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