The Invasion of Normandy: The Dead

 

Unlike later wars, where combat fatalities were airlifted back to the United States for burial in family or national military cemeteries, the Allied dead of the Normandy invasion were buried close to where they fell. The decomposing bodies represented a health risk to the living, so it was important to bury them as soon as it could be done safely. Rather than use Allied troops for this purpose, the Allies put German prisoners of war to work laying out the cemeteries, digging graves, and interring the combat slain. This simultaneously freed Allied soldiers for more vital tasks elsewhere in the combat zone, while preventing the Germans from sitting idle. The cemetery contains both German and Allied casualties.


"Low Tide," American Beach Sector
Mitchell Jamieson #226
Ink & wash, June 1944
88-193-IB

 

As the tide went out the price of the invasion was revealed.

 

A Dead German Soldier
Alexander P. Russo #26
Watercolor, 1944
88-198-Z

 

The German army in 1944 was highly professional and considered very formidable. Its soldiers fought stubbornly and efficiently, and died where they fought as Allied forces overran their positions.

 

One of the Many
Alexander P. Russo #18
Watercolor, 1944
88-198-R

 

This is a view of the many landing craft that hit the beach on D-Day in Normandy. This particular craft was loaded with anti-aircraft half-tracks and motorized units, and seems to have been hit just as it landed on the beach.

 

Beach Casualties
Alexander P. Russo #38
Watercolor, 1944
88-198-AL

 

These are the bodies of those who paid the price of liberty with their very lives. No longer a part of a living force, but only fragments of the invasion, the bodies will later be buried in meadow overlooking the beach.

 

To the Burial Ground
Alexander P. Russo #32
Oil on canvas, 1944
88-198-AF

 

The Allies buried many of their dead on the slope of a hill directly behind the beach after the landing on D-Day. A high price was paid in terms of American lives in establishing this first beachhead.

 

These Are the Dead
Alexander P. Russo #39
Watercolor, 1944
88-198-AM

 

Death took no holiday on D-Day. It was omnipresent. It had no preference for creed, nationality, or age. This was another symbol reminding one of the horrors of war and the price in lives that must be paid.

 

Waiting for Burial, Cemetery Above the Beach
Mitchell Jamieson #V-44
Pen, June 1944
88-193-RV

 

A sergeant of the burial company told the artist that almost 1300 men had been buried here already - American, British and German in separate plots of 50 each, with 200 more buried on the beach to be moved up to the cemetery later. "Before we came over," he said, "they took us to morgues to get us used to seeing all kinds of violent death. Some of the boys got sick then but over here we've had so much to do there's no time to think about it." They had hit the beach just following some of the first waves, he went on, and things were pretty grim then. "Why, when we landed we didn't know what to do or where to start. Bodies everywhere you looked and firing going on all around you. Some of the officers of another outfit wanted to use a bulldozer [to bury the dead] but our lieutenant said no, we'd do the job proper and decent. Things aren’t so bad but this was our first actual experience and we were a pretty confused bunch on the beach. It ain’t a pretty job but its got to be done. That’s the way we feel about it and pretty soon it gets to be routine."

He talked earnestly with something a little apologetic in his tone as though conscious of being apart from the rest of the army.

"You get used to it so you don’t even notice the smell after awhile. Only you have to stick with it. You can’t leave it and come back. The other day I shaved and cleaned up and went back aways to see Doc about a cut on my foot. When I came back it really hit me and I was good and sick."

 

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