Visiting the D-Day sites of France has been something I have wanted to do for a long time. I love history and Normandy, France this is certainly a historic location, especially considering all that happened as part of WWII. After a full day of visiting D-Day sites it reinforced the historic importance of this place and was a somber reminder of the great sacrifices that were made there.
The tour began at Utah Beach, which is the western-most of the five major landing locations of Allied troops on the morning of June 6, 1944. The other four landing locations included beaches of Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword.
One of the first things you notice as you drive through the beautiful farmlands of Normandy are the hedgerows, which serve as dividing "fences" between property in France. At first glance these hedgerows may appear like ordinary bushes or hedges you may be familiar with at your home or area you live. These hedgerows are much different from that. They are very thick and the base is like a solid wall. Durning WWII the hedgerows made it very difficult to maneuver vehicles, including tanks through the narrow roads of Normandy. You may think a large tank could just plow through the hedgerows with relative ease, but that is not the case. Couple that with the fact that the farmland was flooded during the D-Day invasion to further inhibit movement of vehicles and people in the area.
One of the first villages liberated by Allied forces after the D-Day landing was the strategic village of Sainte-Mère-Église. A visit to this town today is a great place to start to understand all that happened during D-Day and the subsequent months after. The Airborne Museum at the center of the town, includes a number of museums documenting the stories and artifacts of the D-Day landing. Additionally, a visit to the Sainte-Mère-Église church is a must-see.
The Sainte-Mère-Église church includes a Paratrooper memorial, commemorating the fateful landing of an American paratrooper on the pinnacle of the church tower. The soldier pretended to be dead, was then captured by the Germans and then escaped and rejoined his regiment.
Bullet holes from the fighting can be seen on the walls of the church as well as the fence across from the church.
The church has a large stained-glass window, which if you look closely you can see the commemoration of the paratroopers arrival in Sainte-Mère-Église.
German Cemetery at La Cambe
The drive toward the entrance of the German Cemetery at La Cambe is lined with hundreds of maple trees, including an adjoining peace garden of 1,200 trees, each a gift to symbolize that peace ought to grow throughout the world.
The large cross, flanked by a statue of a mother and a father, looking out over the 21,222 graves of German soldiers, most of who died between June 1944 and Aug 1944. Additionally the large mound is the grave site for 207 unknown soldiers and 89 identified German soldiers.
Pointe du Hoc
Pointe du Hoc is an interesting and somber visit as you can see and experience the massive concrete bunkers and fortifications intended to house the German soldiers opposing the Allied forces as they landed on the beaches below. You can also understand how alone and isolated the German forces were as they were entrenched with nowhere to go as the Allies advanced from the English Channel, to the beaches and then to the cliffs high above.
Pointe du Hoc is a unique location for seeing the German fortifications and bunkers. The entire point is covered with large craters from the extensive artillery and bombs from Allied forces. The steep cliffs are also impressive to see. It is amazing to think the Allied forces were able to scale these cliffs with rope ladders while being fired upon in all directions.
Today Omaha Beach is a relaxing gathering place for families and weekend outings. During the D-Day landings this beach was filled with ships, soldiers and tanks as the Allied troops arrived under heavy enemy fire. On June 6th alone it is estimated that as many as 5,000 Allied troops had been killed and maybe double that for the German troops.
Normandy American Cemetery & Memorial
Our tour guide made sure we arrived at the American Cemetery in time to participate in observing the retiring of the flag of the United States of America and the playing of Taps at the end of the day (5PM). Definitely an honor to see the Stars and Strips respectfully lowered in honor of the soldiers who fought and died defending freedom in Europe and the world. The cemetery contains the graves of 9,380 military service personnel, most of whom died on D-Day or during the weeks just after in 1944.
A very rewarding and appreciative visit to some of the D-Day sites of Normandy. Having a tour guide was an absolute necessity. Our tour was focused on sites Americans would be most interested in, but there are tours which focus on additional sites of interest for any visitor. Truly a remarkable experience.