S ecretary of Defense Robert M. Gates was among those in attendance when the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) dedicated a new visitor center at the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, France. The dedication ceremony was set for 10:30 a.m. on June 6, 2007, the 63rd anniversary of the D-Day landings.
Also participating was the U.S. Ambassador to France, Craig R. Stapleton; Walter Ehlers, who was in the first wave to hit Omaha Beach on D-Day and later was awarded the Medal of Honor for actions near Goville, France; and General Frederick M. Franks, Jr,, USA (Ret), VII Corps Commander during Operation Desert Storm and currently Chairman of the American Battle Monuments Commission.
ABMC opened the $30 million visitor center to the public on May 26th in time for Memorial Day weekend crowds. Normandy is ABMC’s most visited cemetery, receiving about one million visitors annually.
“The center allows us to better tell the courageous and inspiring story of those buried at Normandy American Cemetery,” said General Frederick M. Franks, Jr., USA (Ret), ABMC chairman. “The center provides a fuller array of visitor services to put the D-Day landings in perspective as one of the greatest military achievements in history.”
The center is open to visitors from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. through June 4th, will be closed on June 5th, and will re-open after the dedication event at approximately 1 p.m. on June 6th. There is no charge for admission.
The visitor center tells a story of individual competence, courage and sacrifice, using an array of interpretive exhibits to put the D-Day landings and follow-on battle in Europe in perspective as one of the greatest military achievements of all time.
One-third of the building’s 30,000 square feet is dedicated exhibit space. Using personal stories of participants and a mix of narrrative text, photos, films, interactive displays and artifacts, exhibits portray the competence, courage and sacrifice of Allied forces.
The visitor center is designed to complement and enhance the experience of visiting the cemetery. By relating the global significance and meaning of Operation Overlord, the center pays tribute to the values and sacrifices of the World War II generation. After experiencing the cemetery and the center, visitors will have a greater appreciation of those participating in the Normandy invasion, the achievement of America and her Allies in conducting the greatest amphibious invasion in history and the importance of honoring our war dead.
Normandy American Cemetery, overlooking Omaha Beach, is the final resting place of 9,387 Americans; another 1,557 are memorialized in the Garden of the Missing.