Three miles west of Cambridge is the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial. As with any visit to a war cemetery, it is an emotional one. Most of us had not yet been born when World War II was being fought. Fortunately, tools of the digital age have been used to recount the stories of those who fought. These stories; saved in print, audio and video; help us to better understand the sacrifices of the youth of this generation in defense of a free world. This generation is what American television journalist Tom Brokaw called, “The Greatest Generation.”
History of the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial
Dedicated on July 16, 1956, The Cambridge American Cemetery sits on land that was donated by the University of Cambridge. The cemetery is the only World War II American military cemetery in the United Kingdom.
Cambridge American Cemetery is the final resting place of 3,812 American Servicemen and Women. On the Wall of the Missing, are an additional 5,127 service people.
The United Kingdom served as a base of operations throughout the war operating as a supply base, training base and staging area for the liberation of Europe during World War II. The Americans memorialized here gave their lives in the Battle of the Atlantic, fighting in the skies over Western Europe, preparing for and participating in D-Day and the invasion of Normandy, as well as other military campaigns that followed until the end of the conflict in Europe.
The American Battle Monuments Commission
The Cambridge American Cemetery is a part of the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC), which operates and maintains America’s overseas cemeteries and memorials. The Cambridge American Cemetery is one of 25 permanent American military cemeteries.
Visiting the Cemetery
The cemetery sits on a hillside and from its entrance one can get a good view of the cemetery. The white marble headstones that mark each grave are in seven curved grave plots. The symmetry of this layout is very interesting. As the cemetery information notes, “All of the headstones are laid out ‘theatre-style’ looking toward the flagpole. The graves area layout might also evoke the propellers of a plane, the spokes of a wheel, or the layout of a baseball field.”
Each grave has a white marble headstone. There are 80 with a Star of David that recognizes those of the Jewish faith and the rest of the headstones are a Latin cross. As with all ABMC cemeteries, all individuals are buried without regard for rank, race or gender.
One of the malls that frame the cemetery includes reflecting pools that extend from the flagpole. The day we were there, the flag was flying at half-mast in honor of Barbara Bush, former First Lady of the United States from 1989 to 1993, who had just passed away.
To the left of the reflection pool, is the Wall of the Missing. This wall lists the names of 5,127 people who are Missing In Action, Lost or Buried at Sea.
Also along the wall are four statues that stand guard over the Wall of the Missing. These statues represent a soldier, airman, sailor and Coast Guardsman.
Memorial and Chapel
As you look at the memorial building, which is the featured image in this post, the side of the memorial has five symbolic columns. These columns represent the five years the United States participated in World war II, 1941 – 1945.
Looking at the featured image (Image by the Cambridge American Cemetery) as well as the picture below, where have you seen stone like this used in other buildings? It’s called Portland stone and is used in many of London’s historic buildings, including St. Paul’s Cathedral.
On the teakwood entrance door to the memorial are engraved images of military equipment and naval vessels.
Upon entering the memorial, as shown in the picture below, guests arrive in a large room. On the right-hand side, is a map called “The Mastery of the Atlantic – The Great Air Assault.” The map illustrates sea routes across the Atlantic, air routes flown from Great Britain to various targets across Europe, as well as depictions of aircraft, sea craft, and commercial craft used in this part of the European conflict.
Located at the end of the memorial is the chapel. A mosaic starts at the altar and stretches across the entire ceiling of the memorial building. Above the altar, the mosaic represents the Archangel who is trumpeting the arrival of the Ressurection and the Last Judgment. The mosaic continues across the ceiling with pictures of mourning angels that are accompanying ghostly aircraft as they are making their last flight.
The new Visitors Center opened in 2014. It is here that visitors gain a better understating of the various military campaigns that helped lead the allies to victory in Europe. You will also hear and read about the personal stories of the people buried in the cemetery.
The Cambridge American Cemetery website includes some of these personal stories as well as the video shown in the visitors center.
Carillon music played during the time we were there. It was a very touching tribute to those who have given their lives and find their final resting place here at this very nicely maintained cemetery. If you don’t hear the music during the time you are there, ask at the visitors center to find out when that will take place. Shown below is a short video clip of the cemetery while the carillon music was playing.
A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
In 2017, the Cambridge American Cemetery embarked on a photo appeal as part of the 75th anniversary that marked what is called, “The Friendly Invasion.” By doing this, families became involved with the lives of their family who are buried here and helped visitors understand how young these people were.
Know Before You Go
The cemetery is open daily to the public from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm. It is closed on January 1 and December 25 and is open on all other U.S. and host country holidays.
Download the App
The Cambridge American Cemetery app is available for both iPhone and Android. The app includes video, pictures, and text. It is excellently done and allows you to prepare for your visit. Even if you aren’t able to visit the cemetery, this app will allow you to visit it “virtually” and learn more about the history of the cemetery, the history of World War II in Europe and about those buried here.