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France in WW II: The French Resistance

The Normandy American Cemetery: WWII Memorials and Museums

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. External Signage at opening gates, April 12, 2022 in Colleville-sur-Mer, France. Photo Credit, Erika Hope Spencer.

The Invasion of Normandy, also referred to as "Operation Overlord," occurred on June 6th, 1944. Along with the earlier battles of El Alamein in North Africa and Stalingrad in Russia, D-Day is often argued to be the turning point in the Second World War. After crossing over the choppy waves of the English channel, the Allied Forces were tasked with liberating the beaches of Normandy and the surrounding towns, thus initiating the liberation of France itself from the Nazi Occupation. The weather presented near impossible conditions and the courage required to push forward are the reasons why so many still long to pay respects and learn about these heroic efforts by Allied Soldiers. There are a good number of battle sites, museums, memorials and cemeteries honoring those who fought in WWII in France, but of all the sites in this region, perhaps none have such a strong impact upon visitors as the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. It officially opened on July 18th, 1956 and now serves as the final resting place for 9,388 US soldiers. Technically on American soil, since the French gifted this land to the US after the War, it offers a commanding overlook of Omaha Beach. It also hosts the grave sites of Robert and Preston Niland, and can be seen in the opening and closing scenes of the epic WWII film, Saving Private Ryan (a film inspired by the stories of the Niland brothers). It is laid out in the form of a Latin cross with a chapel located at the intersection of the arms. The bronze statue Âme de la jeunesse Américaine, or "Spirit of American Youth Rising From the Waves" is pictured further down on this page. To locate specific individual memorials one can use the Omaha Beach Memorial External site which lists soldiers and provides their photographs.

For those interested in America's role in France during the war there are several well-regarded and historically accurate books and films on the topic. Popular books include Band of Brothers and D-Day, June 6, 1944 : the Climactic Battle of World War II, both written by Stephen Ambrose, Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies, by Ben MacIntyre, and Omaha Beach, by Joseph Balkoski (author of several other WWII books). The film mentioned above, Saving Private Ryan, directed by Stephen Spielberg (1998), is one of the most beloved classics. Other epic films include The Longest Day, based on Cornelius Ryan's 1959 non-fiction book of the same name, Band of Brothers, a series created by Stephen Spielberg and Tom Hanks (2001) and based on Stephen Ambrose's 1992 book of the same name, Ike-Countdown to D-Day (2004), and Storming Juno (2010), which tells the story of the Allied invasion through Canadian eyes.

It is important to keep in mind that cemeteries and memorials for WWI are also scattered across the "Western Front," including the Somme American Cemetery and Memorial External, located in the region of Picardie in Northern France. This guide is limited to the sites of WWII. Many visitors try to pay their respects as close to June 6th, D-day, as possible. On anniversary years such as 2024, the 80th anniversary of D-Day External, there are often a large number of veterans, many of whom are more than willing to share their harrowing stories of courage. Other special commemorative activities are planned by the French government to honor their American, British and Canadian Allies. The French Tourism Board has compiled a guide to the area sites External.

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. External Visitors pay their respects at the burial site, April 12, 2022 in Colleville-sur-Mer, France. Photo Credit, Erika Hope Spencer.

Normandy Museums and Sites

The five Normandy beaches are Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. For those who are interested in visiting either the landing beaches, museums, memorials or the many battle sites, here are some of the most popular for American travelers.

Musée du Débarquement: Arromanches External — The D-Day Museum in Arromanches, created in the aftermath of the Second World War, was the first museum to commemorate the Landings. As early as 1945, local councils in the area of the Landings were meeting regularly to coordinate the necessary reconstruction: the Prefect of Normandy was presented with their proposals for urban and regional planning and development, signal monuments and commemorative plaques, and the organization of anniversary ceremonies. The D-Day Commemoration Committee, founded in 1945, was tasked with the commemoration of 6 June 1945. Arromanches-les-Bains External itself is a particularly delightful town and a very good base from which to visit various other sites. The museum has been renovated and reopened in honor of the 80th anniversary in June 2024 External.

Omaha Beach External — Ground zero for American D-Day history, one can see the sculpture by French artist Anilore Banon External, "Les Braves".

Pointe du Hoc External — Cliff overlooking the English Channel that is located between Utah and Omaha beaches. Troops were dispatched here to prevent German artillery stationed there from firing on the landing forces at both Omaha and Utah Beaches. One of the most breathtaking sites along the Normandy coast. Close proximity to both the D-Day Landing Museum External and the Overlord Museum External as well as the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. Pointe du Hoc also has its own visitor center and one can view and walk among the preserved bunkers and gun emplacements.

Caen Normandy Memorial Museum External — Built on top of a former underground headquarters of a German General and opened in 1986. This museum, one of the largest in the world, covers the entire saga of WWII including D-Day.

Musée-Mémorial de la Bataille de Normandy: Bayeux External — An exhibition of the military operations carried out for the Battle of Normandy during the summer of 1944. Inaugurated in 1981, the museum is located in the heart of one of the strategic locations of the Battle of Normandy: the city of Bayeux, the first city liberated in continental France on June 7, 1944. At the heart of the city's "memory center," called Liberty Alley, the museum is located very close to the War Reporters Memorial Garden and the British military cemetery. One might also wish to see the famous Bayeux Tapestry External, which tells the story leading up to the Normand Conquest of England in 1066 External led by none other than William the Conqueror (Duke of Normandy).

D-Day Experience: Carentan External — A unique audio-visual presentation and a simulated ride in a C-47 transport aircraft makes this museum stand out from the rest. It also exhibits a collection of mementoes, uniforms and equipment used by both American and German airborne forces that fought in the area. Formerly known as Dead Man's Corner Museum.

Musée du Débarquement Utah Beach: Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, Plage de la Madeleine External — Utah Beach was the first beach to be stormed by the Allies on the morning of 6 June 1944. It was chosen to establish a beachhead in the Cotentin region in order to capture the town of Cherbourg and its deep water port. At the end of the day, more than 23,000 American soldiers landed to fight a titanic battle and liberate France. The Utah Beach Landing Museum preserves the memory of these men. Opened in 1962 by the mayor of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, it houses a collection of military equipment, arms, photographs and artifacts of the landing. Built on the very spot where American troops landed on 6 June 1944, the museum tells the story of D-Day in ten sequences, from its preparation to its successful conclusion.

Musée Mémorial Omaha: St. Laurent-sur-Mer External — The museum is located on Omaha Beach itself, where the American naval landing called Bloody Omaha took place on June 6. The 1400m² Omaha Beach Memorial Museum was founded in memory of all those young men who died in 1944 and whose memory we are duty bound to keep so that future generations may never forget at what cost our freedom came. It contains a selection of uniforms, vehicles, personal objects and weapons. Many reconstitutions of American and German service life transport you into the heart of the D-day story, permitting a look into the daily lives of those who landed to liberate us and to whom we owe our profound respect. Superb archival photographs and explanatory notes on the landing at Omaha. Thematic signs depicting all the phases of the period of the occupation until the landing. During the visit, a film featuring American veteran’s testimonies will guide you through the story of the D-day landing on Omaha and Point du Hoc.

Musée de la Libération: Cherbourg External — Located in Fort du Route 177 meters above sea level overlooking Cherbourg. The museum covers both military and civilian life in Cherbourg, from living under German occupation up until liberation on the 25th June 1944. Cherbourg’s port was the first to be captured in Normandy and was used to supply the Allies in Europe with 25,000 tons of equipment unloaded every day. The museum's website itself is currently under construction, but information can be found on travel and tourism links.

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. External The Spirit of the American Youth Rising from the Waves bronze statue at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial on April 12, 2022 in Colleville-sur-Mer, France. The engraving below the statue reads "To these we owe the high resolve that the cause for which they died shall live." Photo Credit, Erika Hope Spencer.
Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. External American Battle Monuments Commission, April 12, 2022 in Colleville-sur-Mer, France. The American Battle Monuments Commission, established by Congress in 1923, is an agency of the executive branch of the federal government. ABMC — guardian of America’s overseas commemorative cemeteries and memorials — honors the service, achievements and sacrifice of U.S. armed forces. Photo Credit, Alexander Nelsen Spencer.

Printed Resources

To locate books about specific regions in France search our online catalog for World War, 1939-1945--Monuments--France and browse under narrower terms. The cemeteries will be listed alphabetically under various regions of France.

Other LCSHs:

World War, 1939-1945--Campaigns--France--Normandy
World War, 1939-1945--Battlefields--France--Normandy--Guidebooks
Normandy (France)--Guidebooks

The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.

More Online Resources