Tag Archives: Normandy Invasion

The Meaning of Memorial Day


Normandy American Cemetery, France

Honorably discharged veterans of the military are frequently thanked on this day for their service to their nation.  And although we are grateful for the thanks, veterans would like to remind you that Veterans Day (formerly Armistice Day and also known as Remembrance Day to our Commonwealth Cousins) is the time to celebrate military service both past and present.  Memorial Day is set aside to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of a grateful nation.

Overlooking Omaha Beach, Normandy

Memorial Day was originally conceived as Decoration Day in the immediate wake of the Civil War, and it formally commemorated the horrendous loss of life experienced by both the Union and the Confederacy.

Statue Titled: The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves Normandy American Cemetery

The true meaning of Memorial Day has been all but obscured since Congress changed the date of observance from May 30 to the last Monday in May so as to create a three-day weekend.  Now, unfortunately, it’s seen more as a quasi National Barbeque Day and the unofficial First Day of Summer.  As a result its true meaning has been obscured to many.

M4 Sherman Tank on Utah Beach

Veterans Day suffered a similar fate – moved to the fourth Monday of October – but in this case Congress acknowledged the dilution of that holiday’s true meaning and moved it back to its hard date of November 11 a few years later. Congress really ought to do the same with Memorial Day.  To me, that’s a much more solemn occasion deserving of even more respect than Veterans Day.

German Gun Emplacement Overlooking Pointe de Hoc

In April, 2012, I had the solemn privilege of walking through some of the battlefields of the D-Day Invasion in Normandy, France.  It was a pilgrimage I had wanted to make since I was a youngster of nine sitting in a darkened theater at an Air Force Base in Ohio watching the classic film The Longest Day.  The pictures I took that cold day in April are what you’ve been experiencing throughout this blog.

Pointe de Hoc, Normandy

Below are a few more reminders of what we commemorate on this solemn occasion.  Included in those photographs are the markers for Medal of Honor recipient Brigadier General Theodore “Ted” Roosevelt, Jr. who died just five weeks after he led the landing at Utah Beach, and his younger brother 2nd Lieutenant Quentin Roosevelt of the 95th Aero Squadron (Pursuit), who also fell on French soil just two days shy of twenty-six years earlier — during World War I.  They are two brothers separated by two World Wars reunited a quarter century later in hallowed ground in Normandy, France.

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D-Day — Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial


All this week I’ll be rerunning my six-part series on the D-Day Invasion of Normandy, France. Next week I’ll return you to our Baltic trip and beyond. In the meantime, in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of Operation Neptune (the Normandy landings) and Operation Overlord (the Battle of Normandy) in the event we now collectively refer to as D-Day:

Map of the D-Day Normandy Invasion

The map depicted above overlooks Omaha Beach. Behind that map lies the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial

This military cemetery is a territorial concession granted by France to the United States, so this ground is fully administered and maintained by the U.S. government.

Some of the 1,557 names of unrecovered or missing U.S. servicemen from D-Day

There are 9,387 graves here, of which 307 contain the remains of unknown persons. All but one of those interred lost their lives during WWII. The exception is a grave from a lone casualty from WWI. Quentin Roosevelt, who was reinterred next to his brother Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial

The memorial and reflection pond face east toward the closest point of the United States, between Lubec and Eastport in Maine.

The Memorial faces east toward the U.S.

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D-Day — Pointe du Hoc


All this week I’ll be rerunning my six-part series on the D-Day Invasion of Normandy, France. Next week I’ll return you to our Baltic trip and beyond. In the meantime, in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of Operation Neptune (the Normandy landings) and Operation Overlord (the Battle of Normandy) in the event we now collectively refer to as D-Day:

100-foot/30-meter cliffs of Pointe du Hoc

On D-Day, June 6, 1944, the U.S. Army Ranger Assault Group landed at Pointe du Hoc. Their unenviable mission was to scale the 100-foot/30-meter cliffs and take out German 155mm gun emplacements that endangered the ships that would soon stream toward Omaha Beach directly east and Utah Beach to the west. It turned out to be a bloody exercise in futility, as those 155mm guns were not even there.

German bunker overlooking Pointe du Hoc

The Rangers were sitting ducks, and in the end only 90 survived out of the 225 men who landed there.

Memorial to the U.S. Army Ranger Assault Group

More photos of Pointe du Hoc:

Pointe du Hoc

Provisional Engineer Special Brigade Group

German bunker entrance

German bunker

Memorial to the 2nd Infantry Division

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Filed under Photography, R. Doug Wicker, travel