Cambridge American Cemetery to Mark 75th Anniversary of Friendly Invasion with Faces of Cambridge

Seventy five years ago, American forces began pouring into Great Britain as part of the “Friendly Invasion” of World War II. At its narrowest point, barely 20 miles of the English Channel separated Great Britain from occupied Europe, making it a perfect jumping off point to fight the Axis powers and protect Great Britain. The first American troops arrived in Belfast in January 1942, and the American presence ramped up from there. At its peak, just before the D-Day invasion in June 1944, more than 1.4 million Americans were stationed in Great Britain. Because of the sheer numbers, and the sharing of a common language, American forces became an integrated part of English life during the time period, especially in the East Anglian region. To coincide with this anniversary, Cambridge American Cemetery will host the Faces of Cambridge May 27 and May 28, 2017.

During this weekend visitors can walk these hallowed grounds, and see the faces of the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in the fight to liberate Europe during World War II.  While millions of Americans passed through the United Kingdom during the war, thousands of them never returned home.

Cemetery staff wanted a way to bring the memory of these service members to life. More than 4,000 photos of the fallen will be on display next to their headstone or name on the Wall of the Missing that weekend. Visitors will be able to see the youthful smiles of the Americans who are forever frozen in time, having given their young lives in the fight for freedom.

In addition to the many photos that were already on file at the cemetery, staff have been actively seeking photos for months. Knowing this is a huge undertaking, they are not daunted by the amount of work it will take to carry out this program that last weekend in May. “We have worked tirelessly on this special project since June last year. It is a legacy for the cemetery and visitors who will come and visit,” said Tracey Haylock, a staff member at the cemetery. Les Turner, another staff member who worked to develop this program added, “It is a legacy for the staff who will work here in the future, but most of all it is a legacy and a very small, humbling ‘thank you’ to the American servicemen and women who earned our freedom and the lives we enjoy today.”

Especially in the region where the cemetery is located, it’s not surprising the American-British connection formed during the war is still remembered today. As part of the Strategic Bombing Campaign, American bombers and planes could be seen roaring over the skies of Eastern England all the time in the early to mid-1940s. With nearly 130 built or adapted bases in the region that could each include up to 3,000 Americans, many of the bases were larger than the towns that surrounded them. Pubs, churches, and private homes opened their doors to the GIs, with instances of life-long friendships and memories stemming from those days. Because of the rural lifestyle of East Anglia, many young Americans felt comfortable in this setting as they came from similar backgrounds.

With nearly 9,000 Americans honored at Cambridge American Cemetery, staff expect this program to be an ongoing effort and are hopeful they can support this event in future years. This program echoes the general concept of Faces of Margraten, which began a few years ago at Netherlands American Cemetery.  A key difference between these two programs is that Faces of Cambridge is completely organized by cemetery staff, and Faces of Margraten is organized by Stichting Verenigde Adoptanten Amerikaanse Oorlogsgraven (SVAAO) in coordination with Netherlands American Cemetery. But both programs have the same goal—honoring our fallen.

If you have a photo to submit, email Cambridge@abmc.gov. Entrance to the cemetery and visitor center are completely free.

About ABMC:
Established by Congress in 1923, the American Battle Monuments Commission commemorates the service, achievements, and sacrifice of U.S. armed forces. ABMC administers 26 overseas military cemeteries, and 27 memorials, monuments, and markers.