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The American Battle Monuments Commission and the Commemoration of America’s D-Day Fallen

French Coast dead ahead–helmeted Yankee soldiers crouch, tightly packed, behind bulwarks of a Coast Guard landing barge in the historic sweep across the English Channel to the shores of Normandy (U.S. Coats Guard, 1944). Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b38734

Today is the 75th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy by Allied forces during World War II, usually referred to as D-Day.  The amphibious and airborne invasions secured a beachhead in northwestern France, which allowed for the rapid build up of forces needed to secure France’s liberation.

The invasion was part of an overall strategic plan, Operation Overlord, which had the goal of bringing American, British, Canadian, and allied ground forces into battle against the German army in western Europe.  Almost 11 months later, after much hard fighting and continued advancements on other fronts by Soviet and allied forces, the German armed forces surrendered unconditionally.

The opening and closing scenes of Saving Private Ryan were filmed in Normandy, specifically at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer, a community adjacent to Omaha Beach, one of the invasion beaches in the American sector.  Most historians agree that the fighting at Omaha Beach was the most intense on D-Day.  The cemetery is a component of the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC), a government agency which administers U.S. military cemeteries and memorials throughout the world.

The ABMC was established by law in 1923.  The bill establishing the Commission was introduced by Representative Stephen Porter of Pennsylvania, who was chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.  The legislation was endorsed by President Harding, who submitted letters of support from Secretary of War John W. Weeks, which explained the need for a unified approach in giving proper and respectful remembrance to the actions of all U.S. forces.  Bureau of the Budget Director Charles G. Dawes reiterated most of the points outlined by Weeks and also provided estimates on the amount of funds needed to create monuments for the sties and operate the agency for the first few years. The Commission was also tasked to consult with the United States Commission of Fine Arts for the approval of the designs and materials of proposed monuments.

Originally, sites were acquired in France and Belgium.  After World War II new sites were acquired across the world, including locations in the United States that memorialize American service personnel and merchant sailors who lost their lives in combat or are missing in action.  Some locations, such as the cemetery in Mexico City, were established before the creation of the Commission, but now fall under its jurisdiction.

 

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