Normandy American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach
"I give unto them eternal life and they shall never perish." John 10:28
Our final stop takes us to the Normandy American Cemetery where 9,388 service members, most of them whom were killed during the Normandy invasion, lay to rest. Latin crosses made of white marble mark the graves of 9,238 protestants and catholics, while the other 151 are stars of David to mark the Jewish deaths. 304 unknown soldiers are buried amongst them all. Chronologically my tour guide and I visited the cemetery before Omaha Beach, notice the sun setting in those photographs, but for the purposes of these blog posts I thought it better to end the story here.
What a quiet and somber day it turned out to be! Earlier in my travels, I had a visited a deportation center for Jewish individuals in Amsterdam during the Nazi regime. The photographs and items there were overwhelming. I carried some of that dark energy to these beaches and cemetery, where you could feel death and despair permeating throughout the air. While I browsed up and down the rows of those who were deceased, I wondered what kind of story each one of them had to share. These are some of the stories of those, who was I able to photograph.
Harold E. Sellers PFC 501 PRCHT INF 101 ABN DIV Arkansa June 6h 1944
Harold E. Sellers was born in 1922 in Jonesboro, Arkansas. The youngest of three, he had a very promising athletic future. The events of December 7th, 1944, would push Harold in a different direction though. He opted out of sports and decided to join the airborne troops. After bouncing around military bases, he was deployed to Europe during January of 1944. Once in Nottingham, England, Harold bravely volunteered to become a Pathfinder. The Pathfinders were a very special group of skilled jumpers, trained to operate navigational aides. These aides then guided the main jumpers to their targeted locations. Harolds scheduled jump on June 6th, 1944 was at 00:30. His last words to a friend before he jumped were "I'm going to cover you, and you'll cover me." Mid-air, Harold diverted to a nearby orchard where eventually he got hung up on a tree. Sadly Harold was shot down in his harness and wound up being one of the first two American paratroopers killed on D-Day.
Preston T. Niland 2 LT 22 INF 4 DIV New York June 7 1944 - Robert J. Niland SGT 505 PRCHT INF 82 ABN DIV New York June 6 1944
Preston and Robert Niland, brothers from New York, were killed in action one day a part. Rumor has it that Saving Private Ryan is based loosely on the story of these two siblings. Preston was born March 16, 1915 in Tonawanda, New York. Having been drafted into the Army in March of 1941, he went from an enlisted man to an officer by 1943. The 22nd infantry is where he would be killed in action on June 7th, 1944, during the 1st Battalion's attack near Utah beach. Read more about the Utah Beach invasion by clicking the link: HERE.
Robert Niland born in 1919, was killed in action a day prior to his bother at the tender ager of 25 while serving for the D Company, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division.
Virgil J. Tangborn PEC BAND 90 DIV Minnesota June 14 1941
Virgil Tangborn was born on May, 23rd 1920 in Crawford County, Iowa. Eventually he would move to Nary, Minnesota, where his house had neither water nor electricity. Virgils love of music would take him to the Metropolitan Opera House, where every Saturday he would go and listen to musical performances. After his enlistment, he kept a diary on his thoughts and fears (probably why I was drawn to his grave.) While rescuing a wounded driver from an ammunition truck that was hit by a shell, Virgil himself would be fatally wounded by yet another. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star Medal for "gallantry in action in northern France while serving with the 90th Infantry Division", as well as the Purple Heart. This would be one of my favorite photographs of the day. The way the American and French flag laid up against Private Virgils headstone was mesmerizing. If you ever visit one of my live art shows, you may just see it on display.
Grave of the unknown!
Above lies the marker of an unknown soldier. How sad that their story will never be known! Whomever is buried there had a mother, a father, possible siblings, yet met a demise that none of of us should ever have to face.
At the center of the cemetery memorial is a 22-foot bronze statue entitled The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves by Donald De Lue. Completed in 1953, the ceiling mosaic inside the cemetery chapel by Leon Kroll, tells a full round story or war and peace. "Through the gate of deathly they pass to they joyful resurrection." Normandy American Cemetery. The crosses face the United States, in the direction of a point between Eastport and Lubec, Maine.
A few more photographs above from a trip I soon won't forget. As I write this, it's been a little over five years since I visited the Normandy, France area. As I stated in my first entry entitled Sainte-Mère-Eglise, my one regret is not having packed my Nikon. That being said, maybe I was supposed to experience this all without being buried behind the lens of a camera. Sometimes we can forget to be present, when presence is the only thing that is asked of us. Thanks for joining me on this journey, and I hope you enjoyed learning a little bit about our history. History that you probably already knew about, but history seen through the eyes of a wandering boy.
These posts are dedicated to my Grandfather who passed away in 2009. While he didn't fight in Europe, he did fight in the Philippines 6400 miles away as a member of the Coast Guard. All service members departed and still living, part of the greatest generation to ever have lived.
If you'd like to purchase any of these photos as a print, please email me personally as none of them are currently for sale to the public: Contact Me
If you're just joining me, the first part of this 5 part series covering my travels to Normandy, France in February of 2018 can be found by clicking the link: HERE
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