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Gardens of Stone

Remembering Our Fallen

Photographs by: Gerard Pampalone

On Memorial Day we honor all of our soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice. From soldiers who fought in the American Revolution up to the those in today’s Armed Forces in Afghanistan. 

I was particularly moved last week while in northern France, where this year marks the 68th anniversary of the Battle of Normandy, which following the largest amphibious operation ever to be undertaken, enabled France and northern Europe to be liberated.

Near that historic site are two military war cemeteries in Bayeux. Both occupy rather impressive parcels of land donated by the French government just after World War II.

Military Cemeteries

Both honor fallen soldiers who sacrificed their lives for their country. I found the setting and mood at both to be very solemn. Both are impeccably maintained by their respective governments and quietly convey a message of hope.

If you saw Saving Private Ryan, you would recognize Colleville-sur-Mer. Located on a bluff overlooking the Omaha Beach landing site and the English Channel, the American Military Cemetery at Colleville was temporarily established on June 8, 1944, two days following the massive Allied assault on the Normandy coastline.

Military Cemeteries

After the war, the present-day 172 acre cemetery was established a short distance to the east of the original site. There is a long central walk to the chapel, the Memorial and the Garden of Remembrance, whose wall is inscribed with the names of 1,557 servicemen who were never found, and the perfectly aligned graves of 9,387 American military dead, most of whom were killed during the invasion of Normandy, whose families decided to leave them here. Included are graves of Army Air Corps crews shot down over France as early as 1942.

The Chapel in the center of the grounds is quite small and intended for individual reflection and prayer. Each day the graves are tidied up and any flowers or debris is taken away. Each carrara marble grave marker carries the soldier’s name, rank, unit and the name of his home state. All of the crosses and Stars of David face west, towards America.

The German military cemetery at La Cambe contains the remains of approximately 21,000 German military personnel from World War II, and is maintained by the German War Graves commission. 

Military Cemeteries

Originally established in 1944 by the United States Army Graves Registration Service during the war, where American and German soldiers, sailors and airmen were buried in two adjacent fields until 1947. At the request of relatives in the US, the remains of all American soldiers buried here were exhumed and shipped to the United States. In 1948 the United States gave this land to Germany.

The present layout and landscaping began after the formal handover in September 1961. Hundreds of maple trees were planted and shaped as standards, which make an impressive entrance to the cemetery. At its center is a tumulus, topped by a large cross, flanked by statues of a mother and father. This central focal point is the resting place of 207 unknown and 89 identified German soldiers, interred together in a mass grave.

Military Cemeteries

Our French tour guide, Adrian, mentioned that many German soldiers were not Hitler Youth, Schutzstaffel (SS) or members of any paramilitary Nazi party. The majority were drafted into the military. Any who refused the draft or deserted were executed.

The majority of the German war dead buried at La Cambe fell between June 6 and August 20, 1944 and their ages range from 16 to 72. Although, one gravestone we found was that of a 13 year old. Most died during the Allied landings and the ensuing combat.

Military Cemeteries

The sign in front of the cemetery reads:

“Until 1947, this was an American Cemetery. The remains were exhumed and shipped to the United States. It has been German since 1948 and contains over 21,000 graves.  With its melancholy rigour, it is a graveyard for soldiers not all of whom had chosen either the cause or the fight. They too have found rest in our soil of France.”

For more on the cemeteries and the anniversary celebrations, ceremonies and festivities, go to normandiememoire.com

Gerard PampaloneGerard Pampalone

I am not a professional garden designer, landscape architect or horticulturalist. I am, for the most part, self-taught.

I don’t garden for a living, I live for gardening.

I came to gardening late in life, so I am making up for lost time.

I hope to share my insights, resources, and gardening experiences in the coming months.

My aim is to educate, enlighten and inspire gardeners to take chances, break new ground, dig deeper and stretch themselves.

As seen in:

Westport Magazine, July 2007
athome Magazine, March/April 2008