May 22, 2009

US To Spend Millions Restoring Legendary D-Day Landmark

The U.S. is leading an effort to stop environmental erosion from jeopardizing the clifftop of Pointe-du-Hoc on France's Normandy coast, an area that has become hallowed ground for the American sacrifices of June 6, 1944, AFP reported.

New efforts are being extended to stabilize the cliff, on top of which sits a monument and a German bunker.

Decades of powerful tides, rain and wind shoveled deep into the rock forced the Pointe-du-Hoc memorial to be closed to the public in 2000 over concerns that it could collapse into the sea.

However, the memorial site should reopen to the public in 2011, as work is set to begin next year to stabilize the cliff.

Stephane Simonet, a historian at the Caen Peace Museum, called it a memorial to American heroism, as only 90 of the 225 Rangers survived attempting the insurmountable cliff.

Pointe-du-Hoc overlooks both Omaha and Utah beaches and was chosen by the Germans as the location for six artillery batteries that could resolutely repel any landing force.

It was the number one target of Operation Overlord for the American forces. Scaling the vertical cliffs in order to take Pointe-du-Hoc fell to the US 2nd Ranger Battalion, who were backed by naval and air bombardment.

US troops seized the cliff on June 6, 1944, where the German artillery bunker lay 32 feet from the cliff's edge. Now it sits right next to the cliff's steep drop.

Crews will attempt to strengthen the base with small stakes and cement that will be sculpted and painted to blend into the cliffs.

Regis Leymarie, an official with the coastal conservation authority, said such a memorial site is extremely important for Americans, whose history is not as long as Europe's.

The D-Day landing beaches receive over 1 million visitors every year. The U.S. lost between 20,000 and 30,000 men between June and August 1944 in Normandy.

Some 4-6 million dollars from the U.S. will be spent on the restoration project.

Daniel Nesse, director of the American war dead cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, said Pointe-du-Hoc is the obvious symbol of the soldiers' courage.

"Imagine these men at the foot of a 30 meter (98 ft) cliff holding onto ropes as German grenades rain down," he said.

Erosion, however, could still be a concern even after the restoration project's completion.

Leymarie said some long-term plans would need to be considered to preserve the site in the same way they have been thinking about preserving the memory of World War I after the last veteran died.

U.S. President Barack Obama will pay a visit to Normandy on June 6 to mark the anniversary of the allied invasion.

Image Courtesy Wikipedia