62 years ago today was D-Day

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Americans are encouraged to visit European battlefields and monuments and a federal agency can help with travel plans, authorize fee-free passports for immediate family of the fallen, and more

On June 6, 1944, nearly 7,000 ships and landing craft left the coast of England. Loaded with American, British and other troops, they were on their way to France to help liberate Europe from Nazi domination. Along the coast of Normandy, the American, British, Canadian, free French, and other allies met stiff resistance from German troops who had extensively fortified the shore area.

That invasion, code-named Operation Overlord, is still the largest seaborne invasion in history.

Now 62 years later, just back from Normandy and other battlefield locations in Europe and North Africa, four U.S. Senators are encouraging their colleagues and other Americans to visit American battlefield cemeteries and monuments in Europe and elsewhere…

     

“Because of the bravery of the men and women who fought on D-Day and onward, eventually almost three million troops were able to cross the English Channel. But not all came back. Today, over 9,000 Americans are still buried on French soil at Normandy. Others are buried elsewhere in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, and North Africa. Their final resting locations stand as a monument to the commitment Americans have for freedom for all mankind,” said U.S. Sen. Larry Craig.

“I encourage all Americans to visit those cemeteries and pay their respects to the fallen Americans who forever remain on-duty. We must never forget them. The grounds of the cemeteries and memorial sites are maintained to the utmost of perfection. Visiting them makes you proud to be an American”

[To listen to Sen. Craig discuss his thoughts and experiences at Normandy and elsewhere, click on http://craig.senate.gov/podchat and then click on June 6, 2006.]

As chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Craig recently led a delegation of Senators from the committee to visit the cemeteries and battlefield monuments located in Europe and in the North African nation of Tunisia. With him were three other members of the committee  Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Richard Burr (R-NC).

“I have never seen the outpouring of love and respect for our country, and for our servicemen, than I saw in the Netherlands, in Belgium, at Belleau Wood outside of Paris and at the American Cemetery of Northern Africa,” Isakson said during a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday. “I think it is appropriate for us to memorialize today what those of us who traveled on this trip saw and inspire all members of the Senate and hopefully all Americans at one point in their lives to travel to these marvelous memorials.”

At Normandy on D-Day in 1944, intense shelling of the beach from both navy vessels and aerial bombardment was followed by hand-to-hand combat. Some of the most intense fighting came at Pointe du Hoc, a location along the French coast which rises more than 100 feet above the sea. There German troops had placed concrete bunkers and hardened gun emplacements. In the attack, U.S. Army Rangers used ladders, ropes and grappling hooks to scale the cliff and take control of the position.

At the end of the 2-days of action, the landing force of 225 Americans at that location was reduced to just 90 men who could still fight.

Today a monument erected by the French at Pointe du Hoc symbolizes a razed dagger used by the Rangers. It stands in tribute to the Americans who fought so gallantly there. (To see a picture of President Reagan speaking at the monument in 1984, click: HERE.) 

“At each of the cemeteries we visited, I was able to locate the graves of young soldiers from North Carolina and pay my respects. As I stood at the foot of a fallen American soldier, I took a moment to reflect on the ultimate sacrifice these soldiers have made so we can live in freedom,” said Senator Burr. “Their service and sacrifice then is not unlike the great sacrifice many Americans are making today in the war on terror.”

At the end of both World War I and World II, families of servicemen and women who had lost their lives abroad were given the option to have the servicemembers’ remains returned home or buried in battlefield cemeteries in Europe, North Africa, the South Pacific and elsewhere. The names of those whose remains were never recovered are often etched on memorial walls near where they fought.

“It was a sobering and thought provoking trip to see so many marble Crosses and marble Stars of David in symmetrical rows. We know the histories of World War I and World War II with so many casualties but until you actually see the tombstones it is an abstraction,” Sen. Specter said.

Help available

The American Battle Monuments Commission can provide visitors with the best in-country routes and modes of travel to cemeteries or memorials, as well as providing letters authorizing fee-free passports for members of the immediate family traveling overseas to visit a grave or memorialization site. The ABMC can also provide black and white photographs of headstones and Tablets of the Missing on which the names of dead or missing are engraved, and assist with arrangements for floral decorations placed at graves and memorialization sites.

For more information about the services the ABMC provides, see: http://www.abmc.gov or call (703) 696-6900.

 


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