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New Normandy American Cemetery Visitor Center Opens
Sixty-three years after Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy to turn the tide of World War II in Europe, a new visitor center at the Normandy American Cemetery in France opened in May 2007 to tell the story of the 9,387 Americans buried there and put the D-Day landings and follow-on battle in Europe in perspective as one of the greatest military achievements of all time.
The visitor center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from April 15 to September 15, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. the rest of the year. There is no charge for admission.
The $30 million visitor center was dedicated by the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) on June 6, 2007 during the commemoration of the 63rd Anniversary of D-Day. The center is sited in a wooded area of the cemetery approximately 100 meters east of the Garden of the Missing. Normandy is ABMC's most visited cemetery, receiving approximately one million visitors each year.
"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."
One-third of the building's 30,000 square feet is dedicated exhibit space. Using personal stories of participants and a mix of narrative 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.
In honoring the brave Americans who lie far from home, as well as those who survived the battle, the center will inspire future generations to explore, understand and emulate the values for which they gallantly fought. It also conveys a sense of remembrance and provides visitors an opportunity to reflect upon a pivotal moment in World War II and realize how dramatically it affected the course of world history.
- Design an effective and efficient facility that architecturally complements the cemetery landscape with style and dignity.
- Develop appropriate messages that increase the visitor's appreciation of the magnitude and significance of the Normandy operations and the sacrifices involved in victory.
- Expand public awareness of ABMC services, facilities and objectives in honoring America's war dead overseas.
In June 2001, U.S. Congressmen David Obey and John Murtha proposed that funding be included in the Congressional budget for construction of a visitor and interpretive center at the Normandy American Cemetery.
In December 2002, ABMC selected the SmithGroup, an architectural and engineering firm based in Washington, D.C., to design and build the center. ABMC and SmithGroup planners melded the ideas, concepts and visions that evolved into the final design concept. Gallagher & Associates based in Bethesda, Md., designed the exhibits for the visitor center. Construction began in September 2005 and was completed in May 2007.
ABMC worked closely with local government officials in Normandy to create a visitor center that celebrates the spirit and teamwork of the men and women who won the battle for Normandy, while ensuring that the center integrates into the French government's plan for infrastructure improvements throughout the Normandy area.
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates was among the more than 3,000 people in attendance when the American Battle Monuments Commission commemorated the 63rd anniversary of D-Day and dedicated the new Normandy American Cemetery Visitor Center on June 6, 2007.
Also participating were the French Minister of Defense, Hervé Morin; the U.S. Ambassador to France, Craig R. Stapleton; the Chairman of the American Battle Monuments Commission, General Frederick M. Franks, Jr., USA (Ret); 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 Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force and former President of the United States.
U.S. military units participating included a Joint Color Guard; an Honor Platoon from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, United States Army Europe; and the United States Army Europe Brass Quintet. French military units included an Honor Platoon from the Normandy Regiment, 18th Signal Regiment, and the military band of the Brest Naval Group.
To read dedication speeches, click below:
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
Minister of Defense Herve Morin (in French)
General Frederick M. Franks, Jr., USA (Ret)