Defense Secretary Robert Gates is slated to attend the dedication ceremony for the new Normandy American Cemetery Visitor Center in Colleville-sur-Mer, France, on Wednesday.

Gates will serve as the keynote speaker as the American Battle Monuments Commission dedicates the center at 10:30 a.m., marking the 63rd anniversary of the D-Day landings.

The new visitor center’s exhibits tell stories of courage and sacrifice and put the D-Day landings and follow-up battles in Europe into perspective as one of the greatest military achievements, according to a commission press release.

The commission opened the Colleville-sur-Mer center May 26 for the Memorial Day weekend crowds. With about 1 million visitors annually, Normandy is the commission’s most visited cemetery.

The commission, an independent agency of the U.S. government, maintains 24 overseas cemeteries and 25 federal memorials, monuments and markers in 15 countries.

Also scheduled to attend Wednesday’s ceremony are U.S. Ambassador to France Craig Stapleton; Medal of Honor recipient Walter Ehlers, who was in the first wave to hit Omaha Beach on D-Day; and retired Army Gen. Frederick Franks Jr., VII Corps commander during Operation Desert Storm and now chairman of the American Battle Monuments Commission.

Wednesday’s ceremony is open to the public, though World War II veterans and families of those buried in the cemetery will be given priority seating. Those planning to attend should arrive an hour before the event and be seated by 10 a.m.

Regular hours for the center will be 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. until Labor Day and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. after Labor Day, and admission is free.

Normandy American Cemetery, overlooking Omaha Beach, is the final resting place of 9,387 Americans; another 1,557 are memorialized in the Garden of the Missing.

For more information about the Normandy American Cemetery Visitor Center and the American Battle Monuments Commission, visit

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