Having visited the Normandy beaches on several occasions and been profoundly moved by the experience, we decided to make another little pilgrimage to a place where Americans are buried in foreign soil, to Madingley American Cemetery near Cambridge. It is the only permanent American World War II cemetery in Britain, and was designed by the Olmsted brothers, the creators of New York’s Central Park. There, 3,812 U.S. airmen and sailors lie beneath the mown turf, and the names of a further 5,127 men, mostly air crew whose bodies were never recovered, are recorded on the Wall of the Missing, a 427-foot-long expanse of white Portland stone.
Construction of a new visitor center at Madingley American Cemetery has recently begun. The £4 million project, the first major renovation to the site since it opened in 1956, will feature interactive displays explaining the conflict to a younger generation of visitors. It is set to open in the fall of 2013.
Twelve miles south of Madingley is the airfield of Duxford, which in April 1943 became Base 357 of the U.S. 8th Air Force. Airmen from Duxford flew P-47 Thunderbolts and P-51 Mustangs, escorting the B-17 “Flying Fortress” bombers on their missions over Nazi Germany. Before the end of the war, more than 26,000 British-based U.S. airmen had been killed.
Today, Duxford’s American Air Museum contains the largest collection of historic American aircraft outside of the United States (including all those mentioned above). They are housed within a vast, glass-fronted space, designed by internationally renowned architect Sir Norman Foster. Somehow, seeing the actual machines and the airfield from which they flew makes it easier to understand the lives of those who are buried nearby. It is a sober and moving experience that inspires deep respect and gratitude.