Utah Beach Memorial

Utah Beach Memorial

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The Utah Beach Memorial is an American monument in Normandy which commemorates the World War Two D-Day Landings.

Utah Beach Memorial history

On 6 June 1944, as part of the Allied invasion of German-occupied Normandy known as Operation Overlord, the US 4th Infantry Division, part of the VII Corps, landed on Utah Beach.

VII Corps units landed by air and sea to pursue three missions: expand the Allied beachhead, seal off the Cotentin Peninsula, and thrust northward to liberate Cherbourg. The Utah Beach terrain differed from other invasion beaches. Its dunes were relatively shallow, followed inland by expanses of flooded and marshy terrain crossed by narrow causeways.

German defenses included multiple obstacles along the beaches, plus infantry and artillery capable of blocking exits inland. The Germans also reinforced their units throughout the Cotentin Peninsula and enhanced fortifications around Cherbourg.

On Utah beach itself, U.S. forces landed more than a mile away from their intended destination, due in part to strong currents. Luckily for them, this area was actually less well protected.

“We’ll start the war from here!” U.S. Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr., the son of former President Theodore Roosevelt, shouted upon realizing the mistake. By noon, his men had linked up with some of the paratroopers, and by day’s end they had advanced four miles inland, suffering relatively few casualties in the process.

Utah Beach Memorial today

Comprised of a granite obelisk, the Utah Beach Memorial is a monument to the achievements of this division and their successful landings.

The plot of land where the monument is erected was donated to the United States in perpetuity by the village of Sainte Marie du Mont. The monument was dedicated on June 6, 1984 by General Lawston Collins in the presence of the seven Allied heads of state during the ceremonies commemorating the 40th anniversary of D-Day.

Their is also a museum next to where the monument stands which recounts the story of D-Day in 10 sequences, from the preparation of the landing, to the final outcome and success. This comprehensive chronological journey immerses visitors in the history of the landing through a rich collection of objects, vehicles, materials, and oral histories.

Visitors to the memorial and museum can admire an original B26 bomber, one of only six remaining examples of this airplane still in existence worldwide.

Getting to Utah Beach Memorial

The address is Utah Beach Memorial, Route D329, Normandy, France. The memorial is located at the seaward end of Highway D 913, about 3.6 miles northeast of Ste. Marie-du-Mont. It is easiest to travel to this location by car or bicycle as public transport options are extremely limited.

Their is free parking by the site.

Utah Beach

Utah Beach was the code name for the right flank, or westernmost, of the Allied landing beaches during the D-Day invasion of Normandy, as part of Operation Overlord on 6 June 1944. Utah was added to the invasion plan toward the end of the planning stages, when more landing craft became available.

Utah Beach, about 3 miles (5 km) long, was the westernmost of the five landing beaches, located between the villages of Pouppeville and La Madeleine, Ώ] which became the right flank anchor of the Allied offensive along the left bank (western bank) of the Douve River estuary. ΐ] The German sector code was W5.

Despite being substantially off course, the US 4th Infantry Division (part of VII Corps) landed with relatively little resistance, in stark contrast to Omaha Beach, where the fighting was fierce.

A Site to Remember

The Lone Sailor statue will stand on a plaza at the UTAH Beach Museum, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean from where the US invasion force appeared on the morning of D-Day, June 6, 1944. The plaza is open to the public, overlooks UTAH Beach, is well-kept by groundskeepers, has ample security, and looks out to sea – as a Lone Sailor should.

Although people come and go from this statue, the Lone Sailor will continue to serve as a universal sign of respect towards all Sea Service personnel for generations to come. Each donor has the opportunity to build a legacy by helping the Navy Memorial execute its mission.

Utah Beach the westernmost of the D-Day beaches


Utah was 521 ft 6 in (158.95 m) long overall and had a beam of 88 ft 3 in (26.90 m) and a draft of 28 ft 6 in (8.69 m). She displaced 21,825 long tons (22,175 t) as designed and up to 23,033 long tons (23,403 t) at full load. The ship was powered by four-shaft Parsons steam turbines rated at 28,000 shp (20,880 kW) and twelve coal-fired Babcock & Wilcox boilers, generating a top speed of 20.75 kn (38.43 km/h 23.88 mph). The ship had a cruising range of 5,776 nmi (6,650 mi 10,700 km) at a speed of 10 kn (19 km/h 12 mph). She had a crew of 1,001 officers and men. [1]

The ship was armed with a main battery of ten 12-inch/45 [a] Mark 5 guns in five twin gun turrets on the centerline, two of which were placed in a superfiring pair forward. The other three turrets were placed aft of the superstructure. The secondary battery consisted of sixteen 5-inch (127 mm)/51 guns mounted in casemates along the side of the hull. As was standard for capital ships of the period, she carried a pair of 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes, submerged in her hull on the broadside. The main armored belt was 11 in (279 mm) thick, while the armored deck was 1.5 in (38 mm) thick. The gun turrets had 12 in (305 mm) thick faces and the conning tower had 11.5 in (292 mm) thick sides. [1]

Construction – 1922 Edit

Utah was laid down at the New York Shipbuilding Corporation on 15 March 1909. She was launched on 23 December 1909 and was commissioned into the United States Navy on 31 August 1911. [1] She then conducted a shakedown cruise that stopped in Hampton Roads, Santa Rosa Island, Pensacola, Galveston, Kingston, Jamaica, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. She was then assigned to the Atlantic Fleet in March 1912, after which time she participated in gunnery drills. She underwent an overhaul at the New York Navy Yard starting on 16 April. Utah left New York on 1 June and proceeded to Annapolis by way of Hampton Roads, arriving on 6 June. From there, she took a crew of naval cadets from the Naval Academy on a midshipman training cruise off the coast of New England, which lasted until 25 August. [2]

For the next two years, Utah followed a similar routine of training exercises and midshipman cruises in the Atlantic. During the period 8–30 November 1913, Utah made a goodwill cruise to European waters, which included a stop in Villefranche, France. In early 1914 during the Mexican Revolution, the United States decided to intervene in the fighting. While en route to Mexico on 16 April, Utah was ordered to intercept the German-flagged steamer SS Ypiranga, which was carrying arms to the Mexican dictator Victoriano Huerta. Ypiranga ' s arrival in Veracruz prompted the US to occupy the city [2] Utah and her sister ship Florida were the first American vessels on the scene. The two ships landed a combined contingent of a thousand Marines and Bluejackets to begin the occupation of the city on 21 April. Over the next three days, the Marines battled rebels in the city and suffered 94 casualties, while killing hundreds of Mexicans in return. [1]

Utah remained off Veracruz for two months, before she returned to the New York Navy Yard for an overhaul in late June. She spent the next three years conducting the normal routine of training with the Atlantic Fleet. On 6 April 1917, the United States entered World War I, declaring war on Germany over its unrestricted submarine warfare campaign against Britain. Utah was stationed in Chesapeake Bay to train engine room personnel and gunners for the rapidly expanding fleet until 30 August 1918, when she departed for Bantry Bay, Ireland with Vice Admiral Henry T. Mayo, Commander-in-Chief of the Atlantic Fleet aboard. After arriving in Ireland, Utah was assigned as the flagship of Battleship Division 6 (BatDiv 6), commanded by Rear Admiral Thomas S. Rodgers. BatDiv 6 was tasked with covering convoys in the Western Approaches against possible attacks from German surface raiders. Utah served in the division along with Nevada and Oklahoma. [2] [3]

Following the end of the war in November 1918, Utah visited the Isle of Portland in Britain, and escorted the liner George Washington in December, which carried President Woodrow Wilson to Brest, France, for the post-war peace negotiations at Versailles. Utah left Brest on 14 December, and arrived in New York on the 25th of the month. She remained there until 30 January 1919, after which time she returned to the normal peacetime routine of fleet exercises and training cruises. On 9 July 1921, Utah departed for Europe, stopping in Lisbon, Portugal, and Cherbourg, France. After arriving, she became the flagship of American warships in Europe. She carried on in this role until she was relieved by the armored cruiser USS Pittsburgh in October 1922. [2]

1922–1941 Edit

Utah returned to the US on 21 October, where she returned to her old post as the flagship of BatDiv 6. [2] In early 1924, Utah took part in the Fleet Problem III maneuvers, where she and her sister Florida acted as stand-ins for the new Colorado-class battleships. [4] Later that year, Utah was chosen to carry the US diplomatic mission to the centennial celebration of the Battle of Ayacucho, which took place on 9 December 1924. She left New York on 22 November with General of the Armies John J. Pershing aboard for a goodwill tour of South America Utah arrived at Callao, Peru, on 9 December. At the conclusion of Pershing's tour, Utah met him at Montevideo, Uruguay, and then carried him to other ports, including Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, La Guaira, Venezuela, and Havana, Cuba. The tour ultimately ended when Utah returned Pershing to New York on 13 March 1925. Utah conducted midshipman training cruises over the summer of 1925. She was decommissioned at the Boston Navy Yard on 31 October 1925, and placed in drydock for modernization. The modernization replaced her coal-fired boilers with new oil-fired models, and her aft cage mast was replaced with a pole mast. She was reboilered with four White-Forster oil-fired models that had been removed from the battleships and battlecruisers scrapped as a result of the Washington Naval Treaty. Utah also had a catapult mounted on her Number 3 turret along with cranes for handling the floatplanes. [2]

Utah returned to active duty on 1 December, after which she served with the Scouting Fleet. She left Hampton Roads on 21 November 1928 for another South American cruise. This time, she picked up President-elect Herbert C. Hoover and his entourage in Montevideo, and transported them to Rio de Janeiro in December, and then carried them home to the United States, arriving in Hampton Roads on 6 January 1929. According to the terms of the London Naval Treaty of 1930, Utah was converted into a radio-controlled target ship, to replace the older North Dakota. On 1 July 1931, Utah was accordingly redesignated "AG-16". All of her primary and secondary weapons were removed, though her turrets were still mounted. The plane handling equipment was removed along with the torpedo blisters that were added in 1925. Work was completed by 1 April 1932, when she was recommissioned. [2]

On 7 April, Utah left Norfolk for sea trials to train her engine room crew and to test the radio-control equipment. The ship could be controlled at varying rates of speed and changes of course: maneuvers that a ship would conduct in battle. Her electric motors, operated by signals from the controlling ship, opened and closed throttle valves, moved her steering gear, and regulated the supply of oil to her boilers. In addition, a Sperry gyro pilot kept the ship on course. She passed her radio control trials on 6 May, and on 1 June, the ship was operated for 3 hours under radio control. On 9 June, she again left Norfolk, bound for San Pedro, California, where she joined Training Squadron 1, Base Force, United States Fleet. Starting in late July, the ship began her first round of target duty, first for the cruisers of the Pacific Fleet, and then for the battleship Nevada. She continued in this role for the next nine years [2] she participated in Fleet Problem XVI in May 1935, during which she served as a transport for a contingent of Marines. [5] In June, the ship was modified to train anti-aircraft gunners in addition to her target ship duties. To perform this task, she was equipped with a new 1.1-inch (28 mm)/75 caliber anti-aircraft gun in a quadruple mount for experimental testing and development of the new type of weapon. [2]

Utah returned to the Atlantic to participate in Fleet Problem XX in January 1939, and at the end of the year, she trained with Submarine Squadron 6. She then returned to the Pacific, arriving in Pearl Harbor on 1 August 1940. There, she conducted anti-aircraft gunnery training until 14 December, when she departed for Long Beach, California, arriving on 21 December. There, she served as a bombing target for aircraft from the carriers Lexington, Saratoga, and Enterprise. She returned to Pearl Harbor on 1 April 1941, where she resumed anti-aircraft gunnery training. She cruised to Los Angeles on 20 May to carry a contingent of Marines from the Fleet Marine Force to Bremerton, Washington, after which she entered the Puget Sound Navy Yard on 31 May, where she was overhauled. She was equipped with new 5-inch (127 mm)/38 cal dual purpose guns in single mounts to improve her ability to train anti-aircraft gunners. She left Puget Sound on 14 September, bound for Pearl Harbor, where she resumed her normal duties through the rest of the year. [2]

Attack on Pearl Harbor Edit

In early December 1941, Utah was moored off Ford Island in berth F-11, after having completed another round of anti-aircraft gunnery training. Shortly before 08:00 on the morning of 7 December, some crewmen aboard Utah observed the first Japanese planes approaching to attack Pearl Harbor, but they assumed they were American aircraft. The Japanese began their attack shortly thereafter, the first bombs falling near a seaplane ramp on the southern tip of Ford Island. At the same time sixteen Nakajima B5N torpedo bombers from the Japanese aircraft carriers Soryu and Hiryu flew over Pearl City approaching the west side of Ford Island. The torpedo bombers were looking for American aircraft carriers, which usually anchored where Utah was moored that morning. The flight leaders identified Utah and rejected her as a target, deciding instead to attack 1010 Dock. However six of the B5Ns from Soryu led by Lieutenant Nakajima Tatsumi broke off to attack Utah, not recognizing that the shapes over the barbettes were not turrets, but boxes covering empty holes. Six torpedoes were launched against Utah, two of them struck the battleship while another missed and hit the cruiser Raleigh. [6]

Serious flooding started to quickly overwhelm Utah and she began to list to port and settle by the stern. As the crew began to abandon ship, one man—Chief Watertender Peter Tomich—remained below decks to ensure as many men as possible could escape, and to keep vital machinery running as long as possible he received the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions. [2] At 08:12, Utah rolled over onto her side, while those crew members who had managed to escape swam to shore. Almost immediately after reaching shore, the ship's senior officer onboard, Commander Solomon Isquith, heard knocking from men trapped in the capsized ship. He called for volunteers to secure a cutting torch from the badly damaged cruiser Raleigh and attempt to free trapped men they succeeded in rescuing four men. In total, 58 officers and men were killed, though 461 survived. [2]

Salvage Edit

The Navy declared Utah to be in ordinary on 29 December, and she was placed under the authority of the Pearl Harbor Base Force. Following the successful righting (rotation to upright) of the capsized Oklahoma, an attempt was made to right the Utah by the same parbuckling method using 17 winches. As Utah was rotated, she did not grip the harbor bottom, and slid towards Ford Island. The Utah recovery effort was abandoned, with Utah rotated 38 degrees from horizontal. [7]

As abandoned, Utah cleared her berth. There was no further attempt to refloat her unlike the battleships sunk at Battleship Row, she had no military value. She was formally placed out of commission on 5 September 1944, and then stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 13 November. Utah received one battle star for her brief service during World War II. Her rusting hulk remains in Pearl Harbor, partially above water [2] the men killed when Utah sank were never removed from the wreck, and as such, she is considered a war grave. [8]

Around 1950, two memorials were placed at the wreck dedicated to the men in the ship's crew who were killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor. The first is a plaque on the wharf to the north of the ship, and the second is a plaque that was placed on the ship itself. In 1972, a larger memorial was erected just off Ford Island, near the sunken wreck, [9] and is now part of Pearl Harbor National Memorial. The memorial consists of a 70-foot (21 m) walkway made of white concrete, which extends from Ford Island out to a 40 by 15 ft (12.2 by 4.6 m) platform in front of the ship, where a brass plaque and a flagpole are located. The memorial is on the northwest side of Ford Island and is accessible only to individuals with military identification. [10] A color guard stands watch over the wreck. [11] On 9 July 1988, Utah and Arizona, the other remaining wreck in the harbor, were nominated to be added to the National Historic Landmark registry. Both wrecks were added to the list on 5 May 1989. [12] As of 2008, seven former crewmen who were aboard Utah at the time of her sinking have been cremated and had their ashes interred in the wreck. [13]

Relics from the ship are also preserved in the Utah State Capitol building among the items on display are pieces from the ship's silver service and the captain's clock. [14] The ship's bell was on display at the University of Utah near the entrance of the Naval Science Building from the 1960s until 2016, [15] when it was loaned to the Naval War College. It was then sent to the Naval History and Heritage Command in Richmond, Virginia for conservation work. With the bell restored, it was returned to the University of Utah on 7 December 2017 and is currently on display inside the Naval Science Building. [16]

Sites Around Ste-Mère-Eglise and Utah Beach

One of the best ways to explore this region of Normandy is with a comprehensive map and audio guide from the Tourist Office in Ste-Mère-Eglise. Loaded on an iPad, the virtual assistant can help you find both smaller memorial sites and also major D-Day battle sites. It’s very well done, including GPS coordinates to keep you going in the right direction along winding country roads.

After a general introduction, there are 11 stops on the tour. At each waypoint, the iPad shares images of the actual battles along with commentary that tells you exactly what happened.

The tour is easy to follow, and you can follow it take it at your own pace. In general, it takes between two and three hours.

There's a fee to check out the iPad, and identification and a credit card deposit are required.

Pick up your iPad guide at the Tourist Office, 6 rue Eisenhower.

Utah Beach Memorial - History


9.30 AM TO 7 PM (last admissions 6.00 PM)



The landing through “Then and Now” photographs

Discover the museum in your own language (9 languages)


Discover our educational workshops

Utah Beach Landing Museum To cap your Normandy experience, continue east to the Utah Beach Landing Museum, the best museum on the D-Day beaches.

Built around the remains of a concrete German bunker still nestled in the sand dunes on Utah Beach, this thorough yet manageable museum pieces together the details of D-Day in a series of fascinating exhibits and displays. Its highlights are the exhibits of innovative invasion equipment and videos demonstrating how it worked. For the Allied landings to succeed, many coordinated tasks had to be accomplished: Paratroopers had to be dropped inland, the resistance had to disable bridges and cut communications, bombers had to deliver payloads on target and on time, the infantry had to land safely on the beaches, and supplies had to follow the infantry closely.

The museum’s stunning grand finale is the large, glassed-in room overlooking the beach, with Pointe du Hoc looming to your right. From here, you’ll peer over re-created German trenches and feel what it must have felt like to be behind enemy lines. Many German bunkers remain buried in the dunes.”

Mary Caffey – Fille du Général Caffey (6.06.2014)

I speak for all the members of colonel caffey’s familly. We are overwhelmed by the dedication of respect and admiration of my father. All who came to utah beach to free the world from tyranny at the supreme cost are so honored and remembered. May we americans never forget our staunch brave ally.

“A very emotional return – thanks to all”

David Dewhurst and his wife Tricia (6.11.2011)

Writer / Photographer
Santa Fe, New Mexico

“The Utah Beach Museum is the finest D-Day museum in Normandy. However, it is not quality alone that makes it a truly special experience. It is a museum with a big heart. All visitors are welcomed as guests, but WWII veterans are treated as family. The love and kindness the entire staff gives to our veterans is with heartfelt sincerity.”

Brigadier General U.S. Army (retired)

“I have visited the Utah Beach D-Day Museum at least three time over past couple of years. Each visit showed improvement over the last one. The Museum is well laid out and it is easy to follow the various exhibits. It shows the landing at Utah Beach very accurately.”

Military historian and battlefield guide

“As a starting point for a tour of the Normandy battlefields there can be few better places, and I would highly commend the Utah Beach D-Day Museum to any visitor who wishes to better understand the battle the Cotentin Peninsula that took place here over half a century ago.”

4th Infantry Division
Landed at Utah Beach with the first assault wave on June 6, 1944

“The Utah Beach D-Day Museum at Sainte Marie du Mont, France is a ‘must see’ for veterans and a learning experience for history buffs…

The Museum is proof of the gratitude of the French people and their solemn promise that they will never forget us for returning their freedom to them.”

22nd Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division
Landed at Utah Beach June 9, 1944 Division, wounded on June 12, 1944 at Saint Floxel

“The Utah Beach D-Day Museum is very well designed and does an excellent job of explaining what happened on D Day and after.”

749th Tank Battalion
Landed at Utah Beach in June 1944

“I returned to Utah Beach almost 55 years after I landed on the beach in June 1944.The beach was peaceful and quiet, much different than in 1944. We were very pleased to see the beautiful museum established to commemorate one of the landing areas assigned the American forces on D Day…

“After visiting the beach and monuments, I became more emotional than anticipated.”

Major General Charles L. Wilson USAF retired)

“The Utah Beach D-Day Museum is unquestionably the finest Museum in the Omaha/Utah Beach region of Normandy. It was conceived and first built soon after the D-Day landings due to the energy, imagination and great effort by the Mayor of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, supported by all the officials in that region.

I first visited the Museum in 1984, and practically every D-Day Anniversary since then I have been in Normandy and observed with great admiration the many significant improvements that have been made. Completion of the current on-going expansion will be a magnificent improvement.

All visitors who go to Normandy to view the historic area of the D-Day landings should give this Museum a priority second only to the American Cemetery on Omaha Beach.”

Exercise Tiger, More Deadly than Utah Beach?

L ittle more than five weeks before the Allied inva sion of Normandy—the largest amphibious assault the world has ever seen—a training exercise gone awry resulted in appalling carnage. Yet the April 27–28, 1944, fiasco at Slapton Sands, England, which claimed the lives of more than 1,000 men, may have assured the success of D-Day.

Code-named Exercise Tiger, it was to be a dress re hearsal for Operation Overlord, and that stretch of the Devon coast proved ideal training ground for forces tasked with landing on Utah Beach. Its coarse gravel, shallow lagoon and seaside bluffs closely resembled the terrain Allied soldiers would soon traverse in France. Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered planners to make the exercise as realistic as possible, down to the use of live gunfire from naval vessels and shore-based artillery.

In advance of the initial practice landing at 7:30 on the morning of the 27th the British heavy cruiser HMS Hawkins was to shell the beachhead, stopping just before the troops reached shore. As some of the landing ships were running late, U.S. Rear Adm. Don P. Moon, the officer in command of the exercise, pushed H-hour back to 8:30 a.m. Unfortunately, several landing craft already en route never received word of the change, and when the soldiers aboard clambered ashore, they came under devastating friendly fire. Some 300 men were killed in the accident.

Early the next morning eight LSTs (tank landing ships) packed with U.S. troops and equipment formed up in Lyme Bay. From there the ships would head toward Slapton Sands. As the boats converged, however, a patrol of nine fast and well-armed German E-boats picked up the heavy radio traffic near Lyme Bay and zeroed in on the transports. The fully loaded LSTs (nicknamed “large slow targets” by the troops) made easy pickings. Making matters worse, the convoy had no destroyer escort, as the one assigned to the exercise had collided with an LST and diverted to Plymouth for repairs. The flotilla’s only escort, the Royal Navy corvette Azalea, spotted the E-boats but was unable to warn the convoy, as the American vessels were using a different radio frequency.

The Germans struck with abandon, their torpedoes hitting three LSTs, sinking two and severely damaging the third. Of the hundreds of soldiers and sailors aboard, 749 were either killed outright or drowned in the icy channel water, pushing the death toll for the exercise over 1,000. In one of war’s tragic ironies, many men had improperly donned their life jackets and then drowned when the weight of their backpacks forced them face down underwater.

Allied commanders ordered a news blackout as search teams quickly and quietly recovered the bodies. Of imme diate concern was the fate of 10 officers participating in the exercise who had top-level clearance and knowledge of the D-Day invasion plans. Fortunately, all 10 were accounted for, and Operation Overlord was given the green light.

Though Exercise Tiger resulted in the worst loss of life for American troops since the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and despite the fact five times more men died at Slapton Sands than were killed storming Utah Beach on D-Day, the Allies learned valuable if grim lessons essential to the success of the invasion. Foremost among the positive changes, the Allies standardized radio frequencies, trained troops how to properly don life jackets and established more effective procedures for retriev ing men from the water. As abhorrent as the losses were, the takeaways from the rehearsal paved the way toward the Allied foothold in France and the eventual liberation of Western Europe.

Higgins Memorial Utah Beach

On June 6, 1944 the majority of Allied troops initially arriving on the Normandy Beaches landed in one of two craft: the British Landing Craft Assault (LCA) or the American Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel (LCVP).
In fact some 1,089 LCVPs took part in D-Day.

Developed by Andrew Jackson Higgins in 1941, the LCVP was built by Higgins Industries in New Orleans. The Higgins Boat carried up to 36 troops, was capable of up to 12 knots and could be outfitted with a pair of Browning M1919 machine guns. The boats were crewed by four personnel.

By the time of the Normandy landings the LCVP had been used in every theatre of operations including Operation Torch in North Africa, landings in Italy, and in Southern France. It was also used in the Pacific theatre.

The memorial to Higgins, his boats and the men who rode ashore in them has been given by the people of France by the citizens of Columbus, Nebraska the birthplace of Andrew Jackson Higgins. The memorial here is a replica of a memorial built in Columbus in 2001, and is also a celebration of partnerships
between Columbus and Sainte Marie du Mont … two communities tied together by history heritage and freedom.

Share All sharing options for: How Memorial Day became an American tradition

With the Capitol building in the background, people gather around the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington following a Memorial Day ceremony at the memorial on May 27, 1985. Lana Harris, Associated Press

President Abraham Lincoln, in his second inaugural address (1865), hoped for “malice toward none” and “charity for all.” In the years immediately after the Civil War, that hope was visibly manifested in the magnanimous actions of both Northerners and Southerners who extended an olive branch in mourning the estimated 620,000 men who lost their lives in the conflict.

According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, more than two dozen towns both north and south of the Mason-Dixon line claim to be the first to celebrate Memorial Day, including Columbus, Mississippi Macon and Columbus, Georgia Boalsburg, Pennsylvania Richmond, Virginia and Carbondale, Illinois. Congress officially designated Waterloo, New York, as the “birthplace” of Memorial Day without either a hearing nor any historical documentation. Other contenders, however, haven’t been dissuaded.

In our opinion: A pandemic’s version of Memorial Day can revitalize its true intent

Memorial Day is our opportunity to add honor to the fallen

One of the very first Memorial Day celebrations was on May 1, 1865, when Black workmen gathered at the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club in Charleston, South Carolina, which the Confederates had converted into an outdoor prison. Yale University historian David W. Blight tells us these men reinterred the bodies of Union prisoners of war buried there, decorated their graves, built a high fence around the cemetery, “whitewashed the fence and built an archway over an entrance.” Later that day, they “staged a parade of 10,000 on the track. . The procession was led by 3,000 Black schoolchildren carrying armloads of roses. . Several hundred Black women followed with baskets of flowers, wreaths and crosses.”

People elsewhere as well were already decorating graves of fallen Civil War soldiers in an unofficial way when retired Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, one of the nation’s first veteran support organizations, in effect established Memorial Day as the day Americans pay tribute to the fallen and missing in action.

Logan, in General Orders No. 11, designated May 30, 1868, “for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.” He also called for all members of the Grand Army of the Republic around the country to participate, and hoped they would continue the practice as long as veterans from the war were alive to remember their comrades. His inspiration for a Memorial Day (known as Decoration Day in the 1800s) was the local commemorations already being held in the North and the South. In fact, he delivered the keynote address at a Decoration Day commemoration in Carbondale, Illinois, on April 29, 1866, where “Union Army veterans paraded in tattered uniforms and spread flowers on cemetery graves.”

Ulysses S. Grant presided over the first major organized Decoration Day observation on May 30, 1868, at Arlington National Cemetery, and future President James A. Garfield spoke. Afterward, “children from local orphanages walked through the cemetery with members of the Grand Army of the Republic, placing flowers on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers.” Then, as now, small American flags were placed on each grave — a tradition followed at many national cemeteries today.

In 1873, New York was the first state to designate Memorial Day as a legal holiday. By the late 1800s, many more cities and communities observed Memorial Day, and several states had declared it a legal holiday.

Memorial Day was long known as Decoration Day for the practice of decorating graves with flowers, wreaths and flags. The name “Memorial Day” goes back to 1882, but the older name didn’t disappear until after World War II. It wasn’t until 1967 that federal law declared “Memorial Day” the official name.

Originally, only soldiers who had died in the Civil War were honored. After World War I the scope of the commemoration broadened to include remembrances for the military dead from other wars. The states of the former Confederacy were unenthusiastic about a holiday memorializing those who, in Logan’s words, “united to suppress the late rebellion,” and didn’t adopt the May 30 Memorial Day until after its purpose had been broadened to include those who died in all the country’s wars.

When Logan officially launched the observance, he called for it to be observed on May 30. After Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act (1968), which took effect in 1971, it was moved to the final Monday in May. Several Southern states continue to set aside an additional separate day for honoring Confederate dead.

Today, Memorial Day for many Americans is a time to remember veterans as a whole, not just those who died in uniform as well as departed friends and relatives. While Americans all over the country continue to honor fallen service members with parades and commemorative services, today the holiday also unofficially marks the beginning of summer for many Americans. The three-day weekend is a chance for a beach day, the year’s first sunburn, an opportunity to gather around the grill or lounge by the pool, get together with family and friends, or go on a trip. It is also a chance to watch the Indianapolis 500 race, which first took place on Memorial Day in 1911.

In 1971, the year of the first federally mandated Memorial Day, America was still fighting the Vietnam War and there were anti-war protests across the country. From 1988 to 2019, the veterans advocacy group Rolling Thunder made a tradition of organizing a huge annual motorcycle ride through Washington, D.C., on Memorial Day.

It’s customary for the president or vice president to deliver a speech on Memorial Day at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. Ahead of Memorial Day weekend, the 3rd U.S. Infantry, known as “The Old Guard,” places “small American flags in front of more than 228,000 headstones and at the bottom of about 7,000 niche rows in the cemetery’s Columbarium Courts and Niche Wall. Each flag is inserted into the ground, exactly one boot length from the headstone’s base.”

Let us not forget the real significance of the day, which is so much more than some time off. Let us not forget that Memorial Day is really about sacrifice. At its heart Memorial Day is a day to solemnly honor those who have died for our country and say thank you to current heroes of our armed forces. It is our chance to remember the hundreds of thousands who have made the ultimate sacrifice while serving our country. Their devotion to their country and willingness to make the greatest sacrifice of all is inspirational.

WWII Memorial Commission

“The monument is for all those who contributed to the World War II effort. Those who fought overseas and those who sacrificed here at home” (from House Bill 369).

Created by 2019 Utah Legislature

Sponsored by Representative Jennifer Dailey-Provost and Senator Kirk Cullimore, the Utah Legislature created the World War II Memorial Commission in 2019. It purposes are to start identifying potential sites for a memorial, begin gathering information design elements of a memorial, and drafting a robust process of “next steps.”

Commission Members

Commander Marti Bigbie, American Legion

Senator Kirk Cullimore, Utah Senate

Jerry Estes, Disabled American Veterans

Rep. Stephen Handy, Utah House

Gary Harter, Utah Dept. of Veterans & Military Affairs

Don Hartley, Utah Division of State History

Dennis Howland, Veterans of Foreign Wars

Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost, Utah House

Commission Seeks Public Input on WWII Memorial

The newly-created World War II Memorial Commission invites Utahns to attend one of four public hearings to gather input on a proposed World War II monument:

  • Monday, October 21 – 4:00 p.m. – Central Utah Veterans Nursing Home, 1551 North Main Street, Payson, UT
  • Thursday, October 24 – 5:00 p.m. – George E. Wahlen Ogden Veterans Home, 1102 North 1200 West , Ogden, UT
  • Friday, October 25 – 3:30 p.m. – Southern Utah Veterans Nursing Home, 160 North 200 East, Ivins, UT
  • Thursday, Nov. 21 – 6:00 p.m. – Fort Douglas Military Museum, 32 Potter Street, Salt Lake City, UT

A Home for the Memorial

The Commission is examining three options: a single site, multiple sites/monuments (hub-and-spoke type monument, or a series of small monuments created for specific groups) across the state, and also digital archive products, such as online oral histories, photo galleries, etc. Please give us your feedback using the comment form below.

(For your information, the Utah state capitol is not being considered as a potential location. The Capitol Preservation Board is not accepting any proposals for adding monuments or markers to the Capitol Hill Complex at this time. No new memorial can be built before 2104.)

Designing the Memorial(s)

Do you have any suggestions for how the memorial should be designed? What do you hope the memorial captures? Keep in mind that our intent is to recognize all Utahns who contributed to the World War II effort. What are some emotions or thoughts you hope visitors to the memorial will experience? Please give us your feedback.

Kearns Depot Army Air Base WWII Denver & Rio Grande Western Yards Date December1944 WWII War effort. Date circa 1942 Food line at Topaz Internment Camp WWII Defense Train special personnel. Date November 21 ,1941 WWII War effort. Date February 26, 1946 Navy Mothers Club Victory houses Kearns Army Air Base Depot Pleasant Grove Camp Airmen Date: circa 1942 WWII War Effort Date June 19, 1942 Continental Oil Co.

Securing Support

As the World War II Memorial process develops, we will seek donations. Donors are strongly encouraged to consult their own personal tax professionals about the deductibility of their donation.

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