Survivors say the sea was red with blood. Thousands were killed on both sides, on beaches codenamed by the Allies: Gold, Juno, Sword, Utah and Omaha.
The American cemetery and memorial is one of the places where warships pounded German positions before hundreds of landing craft disgorged the infantry troops under blustery winds on June 6, 1944.
The impact from the bombs disfigured the landscape, forming little valleys among the cliffs.
Rolling fields of flowers fill the place with a solemn silence. Among these 9,400 graves: all the soldiers that never left the beach on this day. Seventy-five years later, these men came to honor the veterans in their regiment.
Nicolas Petro belonged to the 90th Infantry Division. He died in a battle near Méautis on July 5, 1944. At the time he enrolled in the army, he had no family left—but someone remembers him.
Each year, Thierry Bourgeais drives to the American cemetery to commemorate Petro’s grave and all American soldiers that died in the region. He makes sure that the rest of the year, someone can bring flowers to the graves on his behalf.
“I’m sponsoring two graves, Phlippe Abbay and Nicolas Petro. One is of a soldier that belongs to the 101th Airbourne, and one from the 90th Infantry Division. The 90th Infantry Division liberated the Mayenne, which is where I live.” An association called Fleurs de la Mémoire or Flowers of Memory has promised to put flowers on the graves all year long.
“It’s also about transmitting the values [of American soldiers] to new generations. Sometimes we speak at schools to present what the soldiers did. The children ask us a lot of questions.” says Thierry Pivette, another Fleur de la Memoire member.
The soldiers in the cemetery graves are all taken care of by members of the association, with no one left behind.