World War II cemetery in France gets visitor center

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Photos of fresh-faced privates, wizened U.S. generals and the largest amphibious military operation in history. Dented army canteens that once dotted killing fields in France. The booming sounds of gunships echoing over the waves in Normandy — this time, on video.

The Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, best known for its sober rows of white grave markers honoring fallen U.S. troops in World War II, has at last gotten a visitor's center.

Nearly a million visitors trek every year to the cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach, one of the two landing points where U.S. troops stormed ashore on D-Day — June 6, 1944 — and helped the Allies rid the menace of Nazi Germany over Europe.

Six years in the making, the new center was inaugurated recently by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates for the 63rd anniversary of the start of "Operation Overlord" that helped end the war.

"We build memorials like this to remind us of the past. So that successive generations will know the enormous cost of freedom," Gates said at the ceremony.

Designers faced a delicate task balancing the desire to educate while not overshadowing sacrifices of nearly 10,000 Americans buried nearby.

The US$30 million (€22.4 million) visitor center is purposely understated, with most of the 10,000-square-feet (929-square- meters) of display space underground, though it is now the entryway for tourists onto the cemetery's manicured lawn...

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