What is the power of a personal story?
When the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) wanted to construct a new visitor center at the American Military Cemetery in Normandy, France, they needed a team of professionals to help commemorate the competence, courage, and sacrifice of the men and women laid to rest at the cemetery. They turned to HAI, design firm Gallagher & Associates, and the Center for Military History.
The biggest challenge? Discovering more about the lives of those same men and women. “The cemetery always had an extremely powerful emotional component,” the ABMC reported. “What was lacking was a story to go with the names written on the headstones.”
The Stories Behind the Headstones
Many of the 9,387 American men and women buried at the Normandy American Cemetery, as well as 1,557 listed on the Wall of the Missing, lost their lives during the D-Day invasion in June 1944. To tell the story of the pivotal invasion and highlight the personal stories of the Allied soldiers, sailors, and airmen who fought in it, our researchers collected first-hand accounts, letters, photographs, and other material from archives in the United States, France, and the United Kingdom. We also worked with next-of-kin to learn more about the lives of some of those interred at the cemetery, and then drafted an exhibit script that helps the one million visitors who travel to the site each year understand the tremendous sacrifice that it represents.
“The cemetery always had an extremely powerful emotional component. What was lacking was a story to go with the names written on the headstones.”
– American Battle Monuments Commission
The well-received exhibits continue to makes a powerful impression on visitors. “Exceptional, wrote on TripAdvisor reviewer in 2019. “This is a fantastic museum exhibit that really makes the experience of visiting personal and transports the visitor back in time through the specific experience of each person profiled.”
HAI has since continued our partnership with the ABMC, completing exhibits and archival projects at World War I and World War II cemeteries across Europe and North Africa, including the visitor centers at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France, the Flanders Field American Cemetery in Belgium, the Cambridge American Cemetery in England, and the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Italy. In 2019, our team also developed content for digital interactives at the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial Cemetery in France, honoring the first American airmen who flew with French forces before the United States entered World War I.